Drawing Blood and Torta Caprese

“Art gave me a way to see, to record, to fight and interrogate, to preserve love and demand reckoning – to find joy where once I could see only ash. I’d take the world armed only with a sketchbook. I’d make it mine.” – Drawing Blood

The title of Molly Crabapple’s memoir, Drawing Blood, is a play on words capturing the book’s essence: Crapabble has literally drawn blood as an artist and activist; her current success is the result of many hours of work that the metaphor of drawing of blood through labour refers to; and drawing blood in the scientific sense implies that a sample will be analysed, the way she does with her life in her memoir.

Crabapple grew up mostly on Long Island, the only daughter of an artist of Bielorussian descent and a Puerto Rican professor. Her parents divorced when she was seven. Molly Crabapple is the pseudonym she adopted after a friend created a character based on her with that name.

Her memories of childhood and adolescence are candid and humorous. She describes borrowing a book from the library and cutting out the illustrations she liked with a razor blade (coincidentally this is what my cousin did with the copy of Drawing Blood he lent me), going to Paris before starting college and staying at Shakespeare and Company where the words, “be kind to strangers, for they may be angels in disguise” were painted above an archway, and living in New York as an art student trying to make ends meet.

Crabapple worked hard to achieve the success she now knows. She drew Burlesque performers and initiated an innovative form of art class called Dr Sketchy’s that developed a global following. She also captured scenes from New York’s notorious nightclub, The Box, in the years of extravagant excess leading up to the economic crash of 2008. She became involved in the Occupy movement and now works as a journalist and editor, as well as continuing her art projects.

Crabapple is remarkable in her energy, honesty, and constant challenging of her own abilities. Life and art are one and the same for her. This is what has made her one of the most respected political artists of her generation.

I read Drawing Blood shortly after my birthday. Every year I bake a cake for the occasion as a sort of farewell to what has passed. This time I made a flourless chocolate “torta caprese” from Food52. This cake is both bold and subtle, certainly not a wall flower in the world of baked goods.

The Naked and the Dead and Reine Claude Plums

“Still he could see a time when these years he was living now would seem different, when he could laugh at the men he’d known in the platoon and remember the way the jungle and the hills sometimes looked in the dawn. He might even want the kind of tension there was in stalking a man. It was stupid. He hated this. He hated it more than anything he had ever done and yet if he lived he knew that in the end he might turn mellow. The magnifying glass on the gold grains.” – The Naked and the Dead

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How to be a Person in the World and Agnolotti

“You get older, and, contrary to popular wisdom, things do get much harder. Popular wisdom is usually complete horseshit in fact. Mostly it’s designed to keep us from freaking out about how bleak everything actually is.” – How to be a Person in the World

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I Love Dick and a Pomegranate

“I’ve fused my silence and repression with the entire female gender’s silence and repression. I think the sheer fact of women talking, being, paradoxical, inexplicable, flip, self-destructive but above all else public is the most revolutionary thing in the world.” – I Love Dick

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Uruguay is on my mind on these autumn days. As I go through the motions of daily life, I catch myself often thinking of it. I am starting to get restless for the road again.

Uruguay was the first country on a three-month itinerary I embarked on through Latin America earlier this year. An extended stint of travel was something I had wanted to do for years. Finally an opportunity presented itself and I took it, investing a good portion of my savings.

Uruguay is a small country sandwiched between Brazil and Argentina. It is Spanish-speaking and has a population of around 3.5 million. It is considered one of the most socially developed nations in the world. Cannabis, abortion and same-sex marriage are all legal in Uruguay.

I remember my jet-lag-induced nervousness as the plane descended into Montevideo, the country’s capital, through layers of dark clouds. I had never been to South America before and I was excited, terrified and extremely happy.

The first destination my travelling companion and I had planned on reaching was the surfing enclave of Punta del Diablo in the east of the country. The six hour bus journey there from Montevideo was frightening.

It began to rain torrentially as the bus left town. In the lush green of the countryside the rivers were swollen and flooding the road. Lightening tore through the air every five minutes. I was surprised to be alive when the bus finally trundled into Punta del Diablo, unscathed.

The hurricane (as we were told it was later) lasted for most of our time in Punta del Diablo. We took many a walk along the Atlantic when the winds calmed a little, and managed to get some surfing in too. Mostly we talked with the travellers trapped in our hostel with us, sharing stories late into the night.

Our next stop was the tiny hippie outcrop of Cabo Polonio, on the tip of a national park. Life there is rudimentary, the surroundings rugged and beautiful. As evening falls, from the lighthouse, sometimes you can spot a raft of sea lions diving in the ocean.

Returning to Montevideo after ten days of relative wilderness was a strange experience. We rented a room in an apartment on Maldonado, and our hosts were gracious. We visited the fascinating Torres Garcia museum and ate empanadas.

Our final stop in Uruguay was the picturesque town of Colonia del Sacramento, founded by the Portuguese in 1680. We stayed in a sort of treehouse in the neighbouring countryside and walked beside vineyards with our landlord’s dogs. Turning back on our final day we saw the endless sprawl of Buenos Aires across river, our next destination.
















Flâneuse and Bread and Butter Pudding

“My city isn’t mine any more. And yet it always will be, more than any other. We get to know our cities on foot, and when we leave, the topography shifts. We’re no longer as sure-footed. But maybe that’s a good thing. It’s just a question of looking, and of not hoping to see something else when we do.” – Flâneuse

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The Migrant Camps in Northern France

The closure of the Calais refugee camp, also known as the “jungle”, is imminent. Those living there are being urged to leave for other designated centres in France. However, French and British authorities have faced criticism over their handling of the situation. In March of this year, half of the camp was demolished, stoking widespread antagonism. Many of the refugees living in the camp have hopes of reaching the UK. Obliging them to move from Calais, with its close geographical proximity to what they wish to be their final destination, is no easy feat.

In March, around the time when the southern half of the camp was being demolished, I went to Calais and volunteered with an organisation called Help Refugees. By that stage, I had been at home in Brussels for two months, and all that seemed to be on the news was related to the refugee crisis that Europe was facing. I had time on my hands and wished to help alleviate the suffering of these people, who had no-doubt faced death on numerous occasions. I also hoped to experience the camp for myself and attempt to draw my own conclusions about this complex and grave situation.

At the time, Help Refugees rented a warehouse in the outskirts of Calais where volunteers would sort through donations and prepare food for the refugees in the camp. I spent two days working at the warehouse. They were long and physically demanding, but satisfying also. From watching the news, I had wrongly concluded that Brits cared little for the migrants in Calais. At the warehouse, most of the volunteers were from the UK and deeply concerned about the unfolding situation.   

For the three remaining days I worked as a volunteer, I was sent both to the “jungle” in Calais and another refugee camp 40km away on the outskirts of the town of Dunkirk. Our task in the Dunkirk camp was to help move people living there and their belongings onto buses that would bring them to a better camp constructed by the organisation Médecins Sans Frontières. The situation in Dunkirk was dire. Migrants, most of them Kurdish, had been living in a field all through the winter. Due to heavy rainfall, parts of the field were now flooded. We helped move families, women and children out first, often traipsing with them through knee-deep mud to reach the buses. By my second day in the camp, the atmosphere had become tense. Every so often a tent would be set on fire or a gas canister, intended for cooking purposes, thrown on the flames causing a minor explosion. People were angry at the conditions they had been forced to live in. This was their small act of protest.

Back in Calais, the “jungle” was unlike anything I had witnessed before. Much larger than the Dunkirk camp, with an estimated population of between 3,500 and 5,500 people, it was constructed on sand dunes which prevented flooding. Those living there had built homes using tarps and rescued bits of wood. There were shops, restaurants and places of worship, and its inhabitants were from a range of different of places including Afghanistan, Egypt and subsaharan Africa. Almost by chance, I ended up in the southern part of the camp while an eviction was occurring. A fire had started and the French riot police were standing by. A group of volunteers was helping a man carry his house on some wooden pallets out of reach of the fire. The man was frantic, I was told. Despite the fact that he lived in a makeshift house in a makeshift camp, this place had become his home.

After five days as a volunteer, I returned to Brussels on the train. It was one of those late-winter evenings on the cusp of spring and a mist had settled on the fields. As the giant red sun descended languorously the train stopped in villages that seemed untouched by the passing of time. When I got home, I felt overwhelmed at having been confronted with a situation I did not want to believe was real. As the weeks passed, Brussels experienced its own tragedies with the attacks that occurred on 22 March. There are times when I think that all we can hope to achieve is survival. If I have learned anything it is that there is still good in the world. People struggle and suffer, but there will always be those willing to help them. I am an optimist in the end. I have to be.