Friday, April 24, 2015

US states that I've visited, with rankings

I saw something in the news recently, can't remember what, that got me thinking about how many states I've visited in the United States since I moved here in 2002. My rule has always been to define "visit" as "spending at least one night." So driving through a state on the way to somewhere else doesn't count, though that would increase the number a little. I was lucky enough to be married to a person who did travel writing for a long time, so I got to 20 states in fewer than five years. Anyway, here is the complete list, together with some opinions about each state:

Alabama: nice beaches on the Gulf shore, nice seafood, dodgy people.

Arizona: The Good: Grand Canyon and Route 66 from east to west, Petrified Forest, the Indian monuments, Tucson at the southern end is incredible; The Bad: the hellhole that is Phoenix.

California: most visited state for me, from San Diego all the way up to Healdsburg, many of the national parks, then the deserts. Only positive experiences of California. I mean, come on, it has San Francisco, for god's sake.

Colorado: saw a good Barcelona-Real Madrid game in a bar in Denver. The art museum was quite good, too.

Connecticut: Patty did a reading there, we stayed with one of her cousins. There were chickens living in a specially-constructed coop on their property. Not sure if that's typical of Connecticut as a whole.

Florida: in the abstract, Florida is a politically nasty place full of insane people. But I've been there many times now, from the top all the way down to Key West, and always enjoyed my visits. But it does seem that you only have to lightly scratch the surface to reveal the insanity.

Georgia: Savannah was good, so was the shoreline. Had to drive there to and from Atlanta, making me realise the state is much bigger than I thought it was.

Illinois: I live in Chicago, but Patty and I owned a house in northwest Illinois for 10 years, which deserves its own separate blog post. Had an exhibition in Springfield which was good, stayed at a guesthouse there which was terrible. We toured southern Illinois for a travel article once, and were gobsmacked that people in Chicago could inhabit the same state as these knuckle dragging yokels. Thank God for Chicago, one of the best of all US cities.

Indiana: good art museum in Indianapolis, but generally a terrible place with terrible people.

Iowa: went to Iowa City once, that was fun. Also, the house we owned was just a few miles from the Mississippi River, hence Iowa, and we would go just over the state line quite often to a funky little pizza place in Sabula (which is in fact a small island in a lagoon on the Iowa side of the border).

Kentucky: been there three or four times, always for travel articles. The mountains in the east are nice, but the state as a whole, with its crappy food, dry counties, suspicious-of-outsiders people, is at the top of my list of places I hope I never go to again.

Louisiana: New Orleans, 2002, before Katrina. Good place.

Maine: One of Patty's brothers lives there, she taught at a writer's conference there many times, we drove from Chicago to northern Maine a few times. Gorgeous state.

Maryland: Baltimore Art Museum. The seafood at the port restaurants.

Masachussetts: been to Boston three times, also drove across the western part of the state once in summer. Boston is a terrific place.

Michigan: Interlochen and the western port towns, Good. Politics, again, Bad.

Minnesota: went to Minneapolis once. It was very cold.

Nevada: only drove in and out of Las Vegas. Been to some of the desert areas on either side. You can see why the military uses it for target practice.

New Jersey: technically I stayed here because we were in a Newark hotel room for three nights, but every morning we could descend to a railway platform below the hotel and spend the days in Manhattan, returning straight to our hotel room at night. So I haven't actually seen any of New Jersey yet.

New Mexico: love it, from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, Taos, and the greener parts of the north. We seriously considered buying a vacation cabin on the plateau outside Taos back in 2002.

New York: been to Manhattan many times, of course, but also stayed in the central and northern parts of upstate, too. Seems to be a similar Chicago-southern Illinois contrast at times.

North Carolina: went to Raleigh-Durham for a travel article. Great food. Also the place where the local CVB person, at dinner with us, referred to black people as "African-Americans or whatever these people are calling themselves these days."

Ohio: mostly stayed at motels during long journeys on the way to somewhere else. Spent some time in Cinncinatti, though, and it was quite pleasant.

Pennsylvania: those nutty Amish!

Rhode Island: overall not a bad place to visit, but my experience will forever be tarnished by the fact that it was there that I damaged my back, in 2009, and injury that still bothers me to this day.

South Dakota: the Badlands, Mount Rushmore Rapid City, Indian language spoken on the local public radio station, beautiful sort of brassy gleaming light on the prairie grasses at dusk.

Tennessee: nice food, nice towns, but filled with annoying southerners.

Texas: see remarks on other southern states.

Utah: wow, what a landscape. Mormons, though.

Vermont: the state where I met the love of my life. Beautiful in the north, progressively less so as you go downstate towards Brattleboro, which is an armpit of a town. I spent weeks walking around the hills of northern Vermont during a two month artist's residency in 2000, giving me some indelible memories.

Virginia: see Tennessee.

Washington State: all I remember is the rain in Seattle, and a nice ferry trip to that island in the sound that everyone talks about.

Wisconsin: what happened to Wisconsin? Nice towns, Door County up in the north is sweet, generally very nice people. Then they lurch to the right wing and elect Scott Walker. Twice.

Total: 33 states. Places I'd still like to go: Montana. Wyoming. Idaho. Oregon. Hawaii. Maybe Charleston, South Carolina. Maybe Alaska, though I'm generally not into the whole "wild nature" thing.

Places I probably won't visit because they sound too boring: Delaware. North Dakota. Nebraska.

Places I intend to avoid at all costs: Arkansas. Mississippi. Oklahoma. Missouri. West Virginia. Kansas.

And did I say I hate Kentucky? I did. But I'll say it again anyway: I hate Kentucky!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Visit to an Artist's Studio: Trevor Lillistone

I visited ceramic artist Trevor Lillistone's studio in Bath Spa, UK, last November. It's in a building made from the butter-coloured stone that you see all over this beautiful city, and you get to Trevor's studio by crossing cobbled courtyards and winding along corridors past other artists' studios.

He's been making ceramics for about twenty years, and only devoted himself to it full time relatively recently. He makes tableware and decorative ware in fired stoneware, with glazes that are classically smooth or deliciously improvised. They are all lovely to look at, but the ones I respond to most are the anagma ware pieces, which have that crackle-glaze texture in colours such as orange and blue.

During our visit, he talked about the people who had influenced him, like Lucy Rie, and the length of time it takes to get things right, and how he now holds classes in his studio.

I took a five week class in hand building with stoneware about four years ago, from which I learned two things: working with clay is difficult to master, but could get addictive very quickly; and ceramic artists have the great satisfaction of making something real and tangible. I'm sure an artist like Trevor Lillistone has his bad moments and his frustrations, but looking around his studio, they seemed like they might be few and far between.

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