Ruskin´s Lonely Planet

It´s not such a lonely planet anymore. The guidebooks pettle clichés and backpackers trample the same path, robotically feeling whatever ´the book´ has predetermined for us to feel. We are like sheep to the pied piper of someone else´s fears and inclinations. We focus too rashly on´capturing´ travel. Moving rapidly, accumulating, consuming; I fear that we seldom take the opportunity to drink in a unique, unplanned experience.

I don´t think that it was a coincidence that I read about John Ruskin (in The Art of Travel) on the same day that I noticed so many people sketching urban landscapes in Valparaiso.

Ruskin was a Londoner whose life was focused on the proper response to beauty. He believed that by describing something artistically, you learned it from the inside-out, developed a conscious understanding of it, and were thus able to possess it. Succinctly, Ruskin was interested in fostering the ability to see, as opposed to merely looking.  In a way, Ruskin has articulated a kind of theology of drawing.

This blog is one form of my effort to see through ¨word-painting.¨  Ruskin has inspired me to begin to draw more as a means of fostering wonder and gratitude over my surroundings.

I like to draw when I go to art museums.  I find a painting that moves me in some way, and I´ll sit for some hours and make a raw, fledgling sketch of lines and smears and shading, hoping something of the essence is revealted. 

I´m not a very talented drawer, but Rusking has helped teach me that the product is the least important part of the experience.  Drawing  (and writing, for that matter) forces you to slow down and to ¨be¨– authentically, in the moment, consciously noticing textures, smells, angles, and emotions. In the end, you are rewarded simply by the ¨search for an authentic representation of an experience.¨


Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso is a city of crooked, cobbleDSCI0027stone alleys, pastel-colored house fronts stacked steeply up hilllsides, rickety ascensores peddling tree-top routes, switchbacking staircases, crowded oblong plazas, rooftop terraces, and intimate bars and cafes.

Its got a little bit of San Francisco (myriad forms of transportation, steep hills), Seattle (staircases as major thoroughfares, underground scene), Key West (pastel), some of the grittier parts of Paris (French doors and windows overlooing streets, cafes shoved into spaces you´d never have thought possible), and a hint of Barcelona (The Neruda trail mirroring that of Gaudi in the heights of the city).DSCI0029

Yet it remains distinctly South American. It thrives on chaos and pulses a revolutionary energy. The streets are filled with sleeping dogs, bootleg vendors, and more mini-buses than anyone should be able to ride.

¨Bohemian¨ seems to be the catchphrase, and it´s not a bad one.

Street jugglers step into intersections during red lights, hurling flaming sticks and bowling pins.

It is more of a surprise to me when I don´t see a protest march then when I do. Yesterday, the profesors of a local university blocked traffic in the center of town.

I´ve never seen so many people with sketchpads in any one city in my life. Everywhere I walked, there was someone sketching something in a book.DSCI0032