The art of observation

Ted Mooney, the author of several novels, including the most recent thriller, The Same River Twice, is also a teacher at the Yale University School of Art. He is in the enviable position of combining unique skills, both as an accomplished art critic and as a narrator. In a recent podcast interview, Mooney described how he spends time trying to capture the essence of a place. I found his comments on observation useful for anyone who likes to travel or is interested in writing.
What I do when I visit a city... I spend fourteen-sixteen hours a day on the street. And if you just look -- and I do owe this to my years in the art world, I think, in some way -- if you keep your eyes open, and look at everything as if you've never seen anything of that kind before, you discover amazing things. They are all there to be seen.

If you stand in front of an art work of even medium value, you really have to spend some time clearing your mind of words -- utterly -- and just begin to look and keep yourself as blank as possible, for as long as possible, and you will begin to see the relations of things, how they fit or don't, and eventually you'll be able to see the object whole and then you can start letting words come in again and they will be the right words.

If you do the same thing at a street corner, it works too, by the way. You need to see the things that the people who live in that place can't see because they have their own routine

To read a review of Ted Mooney's latest novel, see Worlds of Trouble
For an interview with the writer, see Malcolm Love's conversation, posted on The Current Reader.

Road tales on a budget

Matt Gross, the New York Times' "Frugal Traveler," is moving on to something else. After four full years of writing travel articles for the newspaper, of blogging and videotaping his budget-wise, globe-trotting ways, Matt has decided to take off his backpack. (If you'd like a little background, see the posts entitled "Rome and Malta" or "Bucharest rising" in this blog.)

Before moving on to his next assignment, he wrote one last blog entry that summarizes what he's learned from being a traveler on a tight budget. He says one of the key lessons that will stay with him is that the amount of money spent on a trip does not determine the quality of the experience. What instead is much more valuable is having an open mind and being willing to go outside of one's comfort zone. Matt says meeting new people and establishing new friendships are the real reward for travel, regardless of budget or destination.

He explains his reasons, his joys and his regrets. The blog entry also has some embedded video samples of some of his experiences. You can read his last post here.

The "Frugal Traveler" column, however, isn't dead -- it merely has a new protagonist: Seth Kugel will be picking up where Matt left off. This summer, Seth will be travelling on less than $500 a week from Sao Paolo to Manhattan. The writer of the "Weekend in New York" column will offer some unique insights from the road. You can read some of Seth's previous work on his website, linked here.