Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.


My photo
Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Moscow (Larussia)

                                                                        image ©2013 Jim Christy

Hydro 656 International Tractor, Wolfe's Neck Farm, Maine

Kerouac, Kyrgyzstan, Neil Young & Celine Dion

Guido Goluk, the Dutch translator of Kerouac's On the Road (that's Onderweg in Dutch) sent this report from the Stans. 
"Just got back from Kyrgyzstan, where I made a 1000km round trip by bike with my cycling pal Djoen. High passes (over 3000m), a random attack by a bull, hospitality by herdsmen, the nightsky watched through the smoke vent of a yurt, fermented horse milk, rough unpaved roads – the works. I send you a nice truck and a view"--GG
Speaking of Ti-Jean, here's a NYT piece that muses on two separate essays in The Walrus a few years back, suggesting the essential Canadianess of Kerouac and Neil Young. The NYT blog asks, if Americans grant that Canada holds a claim to those two, will Canadians be willing to work with the United States — as Conan O’Brien originally suggested  — “to solve the Celine Dion problem”?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chevrolet Fleetline Aerosedan

from Alex Emond, our man in southwest Saskatchewan:
"Just back from a few days out Ponteix way. Just ' next door ' in Aneroid, Sask. sits this 1942(?) Chevrolet Fleetline Aerosedan. It appears to be an original  with no damage and up-to-date plates. I think somebody just tools around locally, and keeps it in the garage in winter. And the years just keep sliding by. It is quite a beautiful coupe, borrowing some style from the Chrysler (and De Soto) Airflows of the Thirties. I'm going to track down the owner on my next trip out there.
The old Bus Stop sign  was in a church basement in Hazenmore, Sask. Cheers-AE"

Alberta Is More Than Tar Sands

Most Mainers know only 2 things about Alberta.
1) the noxious Alberta tar sands will soon be slithering through the Montreal-to-Portland pipeline
2)strong cold NW winds--infamous Alberta Clippers--come out of there.
               So I'm reposting an AL journal entry from a couple of years back. I  did a lot of my growing-up in Alberta and was privileged to know amazing people there--e.g., Sid Marty; Priscilla Bruised Head, from Stand Off; Harold Healey, the wise man from the Blood; the painter Alex Emond; trail builder Toby Clark; Susan Richardson playing Bach; meeting Dan Weasel Moccasin; the author & historian Jon Whyte--just to name a few. The whole tribe of Banff hippies. Writers met over the years at Banff Centre...Anne Carson reading her Short Talks then swimming laps in the Banff pool while I read her Kinds of Water. Alistair Macleod reading The Closing Down of Summer late one autumn to a bunch of us sitting on the gallery floor. Pow Wows at Head-Smashed-In. Burning sweetgrass in a Chevy hubcap on the stove in Priscilla Bruised Head's kitchen, at Stand Off.  The drummers and singers of the Kai Nai and Pikunni. Ranchers in the foothills, cowboys like Sid Cunningham and Jack Gill, the beer parlours in Sundre and Caroline. Hiking everywhere and running whitewater in green rivers: Athabaska, the Bow... driving over Bow Summit in a snowstorm, and the road from Longview to Pincher Creek and the Crowsnest highway....finding Billy Lillis's grave at Medicine Hat...yikes, I'm getting all nostalgic here, and AL is not to be a blog about nostalgia, a tedious virus which plagues the old car/truck world. Here at AL we like the here and now. We like seeing things clearly, or the illusion of. Maybe what's happening, as the ending of my current novel-in-progress floats like a very dim mirage on my authorly horizon, part of my brain is bending back to Alberta, maybe the first hint of another novel lurking, somewhere...anyway, as Ian Tyson noted, weather's good there in the fall....
Four strong winds that blow lonely, etc. Thanks to Ian Tyson for the song, and Neil Young for the versions he's delivered over the years. I'm on the road in Alberta, Canada. Last night at WriterFest, the book festival in Calgary, I was lucky enough to read to an SRO crowd of booklovers at the Vertigo Theatre, on a powerful list with Wayne Johnston, Elizabeth Hay, Johanna Skibsrud and Anita Rau Badami.  We were introduced by Calgary's brilliant mayor, Naheed Nenshi, a reader/politician...really and truly. He says so, anyway. And I believe.
            Did an another event at Audrey's Books in Edmonton tonight.
           But what I've really been doing is driving a lot, and getting out and walking whenever I can.... wishing to reconnect with this powerful Alberta landscape that meant so much to me as a young man. Something about October out here: when I worked on a wheat farm October meant the harvest was nearly over and we could think about where we were going to head for to spend the money we'd been saving up all the summer.
      Aspens sharp yellow and shivering in the October winds, all along the foothills...I'm trying to write this post in 10 minutes before going off to dinner and the bookstore reading, so I think I'll just put up a couple of photographs from this week, and write more about context, along with some personal history, when I have a little more time.
          Strands of my own personal connections to Alberta: When I was 18 I came out west on my own steam and found a job as a hand on a cattle ranch in the Rocky Mountain foothills. I ended up going back for another season, and learned there most of what I know about horses and cattle, hayfarming and fence mending and small town beer parlours. I also learned just what I could and couldn't do on my own. The photo above was taken near Caroline, Alberta a couple miles from the GH Ranch, where I worked. Fall roundup was happening. I remember how tough it was  working cattle in those aspen groves: not exactly the wide open range. But the forest is good cattle browse, and our cows were certainly free-range, and organic as hell.
             Another Alberta connect for me: I put in time on a crew building and rebuilding hiking trails in the Rockies. This week I hiked from lake Louise to Lake Agnes on a trail we rebuilt in the mid-eighties. I remember hiking up that trail with Toby Clark, both of us toting Swedish rock drills on our shoulder.
            No rock drills, mattocks, and helicopters this time. No grizzlies, either. This photo is moi, up at Lake Agnes.

Below: Lake Louise was looking like, well, like Lake Louise. i.e., like nowhere else.

Driving west on the Trans Canada, that first glimpse of Castle Mountain is always a thrill:

Today the wind was blowing maybe 20 knots NW, (ref. Ian Tyson: those winds sure can blow cold/ way out there). Classic Alberta autumn, and the sky was mostly clear. Down south the aspens were still blazing yellow but closer to Edmonton things were starting to look bare. I stopped at Rocky Mountain House, and walked the bank of the North Saskatchewan River, and through the site of the 19th century Hudson's Bay Co. (and Northwest Company) fur trading posts. I think the No. Saskatchewan may be the most beautiful river on the continent.
       Back in in southern Alberta, on the Stoney Reserve:

  Looking forward to heading back to Banff tomorrow: dinner with old friends, then another event at WordFest in Calgary on Saturday.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Tesla Model S: "This Is The Future I Want"

This from our man in Chapel Hill, Lee Buck, who recently took delivery of his Tesla Model S

"Yesterday I fueled my car for the last time. With luck it may be the last time I ever put fuel into a car. Today I took delivery of a Tesla Model S.
"What first strikes you when you drive the Model S is the silence. As you pull away from the curb, the total absence of noise seems wrong. Your brain clicks into alert mode trying to figure out the conflicting signals: motion is supposed to be noisy.
"As you maneuver around the parking lot, your brain is confronted by another paradox. The car feels solid and purposeful — befitting its substantial size and weight — but also deft and effortless. The smooth and linear responses to your inputs instills a sense of confidence and wonder.
"Take it out into the open road and punch the accelerator. You rush forward with an immediacy and urgency that you didn't know was possible. Your right foot seems connected directly to the small of your back. Press hard and your back instantly knows what your ears disbelieve. The dashboard digits blur while the g-forces command your lips into a grin. No sound, no fury, no smoke, no drama. Just bewildering acceleration — so this is what it feels like to be the pellet in the slingshot...
"Find a winding road and you can reinterpret the laws of physics. With its weight mostly below your feet, it hugs the road like a race car. No leaning, no slipping, no squealing. Just a connection to the road like the slots cars of your youth.
"Ease back and settle in for the daily commute. The interior is clean and calm. The large screen is prominent but not distracting. Its UI is smart and beautiful — finally a car computer that complements rather than detracts.
"And then it hits you: this is an incredible car… one of the finest in the world. It doesn't need its own category, it doesn't need to be graded on a curve. It beats a century of internal combustion engine technology on its first at-bat.
"This is the future of my youth. This is the future that I want. No more toxic fuels and poisonous emissions. No more underwriting sheiks and fighting wars. It is said that you have two important votes  in life: one at the polling place and one at the cash register.  I made my vote. I am an official sponsor of the future."

Hoffman Motor Cars, Frank Lloyd Wright & the first Porsche 356 in the US

Frank Lloyd Wright's design for the Hoffman Motor Cars showroom, NYC
"Born in Austria in 1904, it is safe to say that Max Hoffman was as visionary in the automobile industry as Wright was in Architecture. Alfa Romeo, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkswagen. Hoffman was instrumental in making these brands household names...In the late 1930s he moved to Paris, thensettled in New York soon after the start of World War II. He began a jewelry business that was successful enough to propel him into the auto industry. He formed the Hoffman Motor Car Company in 1947, and as legend has it, his showroom opened with a single French Delahaye four passenger coupe..."

Wright received a pair of Mercedes as part of his commission.

The Wright Library has a comprehensive post about Hoffman, Porsches, and Frank Lloyd Wright (who designed Hoffman's car showroom in NYC)  here

The Truck Trope

The truck is a big draw for H's pals. They like to climb all over it, sit behind the wheel, stomp around in back. Where does the truck-trope come from? Not to get essentialist here, but it seems buried deep somewhere near the heart of guydom. So far, very few little girls have expressed interest in either of our trucks, but boys seem drawn to them, magnetically. Is it the big, boxy, toylike shape? The deep growl of the engine? Or just the simple, blunt, graspable size of everything?
 I had a serious truck-trope as a boy, and would stare at them for hours. My family lived in an apartment in Montreal. We had a very metropolitan lifestyle. My father wasn't at all interested in trucks, or cars, though we always had a sedate sedan, which he always traded in every three years, after consulting me on what to buy next, since he didn't much care.  I remember my first ride out in the open, in the back of a pickup truck, at Goose Rocks Beach, Maine when I was 6. I learned to drive the summer I was 12, in a 1951 Chevrolet Advanced Design pickup that Emil Cochand drove all the way home to St Marguerite, Quebec, from Missoula, Montana, where he was on the U of Montana ski team.

              Emil's truck had a suicide knob on the wheel; very cool.
              My next truck-love was the 1961 Apache I drove when I was working on the GH Ranch in Sundre, Alberta.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Montreal, the Center for Canadian Architecture, and The Seagram Building

I've been reading the copyedit of my book of stories, Travelling Light, (Canadian  spelling, eh?) due out this summer from Anansi, so I'm thinking a lot about Montreal these days--my hometown, and the setting of some of the stories. For no better reason than that, I'm posting Montreal (et ses environs) photos--mostly by me, a few from the family archive. The first person who can identify tous les endroits wins....a 1st edition of Travelling Light, signe par moi.
        For anyone interested in Montreal, Kristian Gravenor's blog coolopolis is fun. It's wry & pithy & very knowing about Montreal, a city which has, god knows, inspired much bad writing & weak thinking. Not to mention way too much European-style clowning.*

(Have a look at the Center for Canadian Architecture's provocative open-source guide to Montreal. The CCA was founded by Phyllis Lambert, who was responsible for hiring Mies Van de Rohe to design the Seagram Building on Park Avenue.)
And if you're aiming for Montreal anytime soon, or just want to keep an eye on what's happening there in the arts, The Rover's weekly The List is essential.

C'est pas facile d'être amoureux à Montréal
Le ciel est bas, la terre est grise, le fleuve est sale
Le Mont-Royal est mal à l'aise, y a l'air de trop
Westmount le tient serré dans un étau
Y a des quartiers où le monde veille sur le perron
Y a un bonhomme qui en a fait une belle chanson
Dans ces bouts-là les jeunes se tiennent au fond des cours
Y prennent un coke, y prennent une bière, y font l'amour

Here a video of the gran' spectacle sur Mont-Royal in 1976
Forget Paris. The city that Montreal most resembles--in its history as a 19th c. low-wage factory town, its ethnicities, architecture, huge number of churches, self-regarding neighbourhods, and urban style, is Brooklyn NY. 

Of course Brooklyn has Manhattan across the river, and Montreal has Longeuil.

*A French clown, according to the late Robert Benchley, is the superlative form of the adjective "unfunny." One knows what he meant. You have only to utter the phrase and I see a milk-faced, red-nosed, popeyed oaf (later to be described as a 'Chaplinesque droll')  falling backward off a kitchen chair while in the act of blowing low C on a slide trombone. Behind him, doubled up with laughter, crouches his partner, or deuxiéme banane, who wear spangles and carries in one hand a soprano saxophone. They are both, you understand, brilliant musicians; only brilliant musicians could pretend to play so badly. They are in the great line of Continental clowns, and that, as far as Mr. Benchley and I are concerned, means the firing line.-- Kenneth Tynan, 1960