Cigarettes: mandatory. Respirator: optional.

(Click here for the video.)

Between a half day in a tattoo studio (more on that soon) and eating some wonderful buckwheat crepes with our friend Sharla, we just happened to walk through the square at Place du Capitole where Toulouse Graffiti Jam 3 had just started. Half of the square was transformed into a maze of plywood walls with paintings in-progress by over 30 artists, while a live DJ spun French hip-hop and timely tributes to Beastie Boy MCA, who had passed away less than a week earlier. Most of the artists were native to Toulouse and Paris, while others came from UK, Spain, Italy, and even Atlanta and LA.

Graffiti seems to be a reoccurring theme, even back to our first day in Reykjavik. It continued in Glasgow where I thought to myself, “…can’t tell if there is a lot of decent street art here, or if I’m just from the midwest and don’t know whats normal.” In Paris, I spotted an Invader tile mosaic strategically placed next to one of Hector Guimard’s Metro station entrances. The artist who tattooed me in Madrid (… also more on that soon) started sneaking out to spray paint when he was 13, and even had plans right after my appointment to go paint some walls with friends who were in town from northern Europe.

I was vaguely familiar with a couple of the French artists at the Toulouse event, which made it exceptionally cool to just happen across giant pieces of their work in public.

The first was a giant floating one-eyed head by Leopold Geb. I recognized his style from seeing a few of his drawings online. When I searched around enough to find out his name, his tumblr linked to an artist I had met with earlier that day.

Then there was a piece by Vincent Abadie Hafez, also known as Zepha. Zepha’s work is composed with broad-stroked and impeccably (impossibly) balanced writing, influenced by arabic calligraphy. That writing was instantly recognizable in giant gold brush strokes amidst darker layers. I loved it enough to get a decent photo, not even realizing it was actually unfinished. When we walked through again a couple days later, it was covered in an almost-opaque red except where he had encouraged random viewers to rub it away with their hands. This revealed an under-painted circle of lettering he had put down beforehand, which I think told an interesting story about this type of art.

Graffiti has roots in defacement. And the defacement side of graffiti is sadly still kicking. The territorial pissings of taggers exist in every city we’ve been in. It defaced legitimate street art in Reykjavik. Our first view of the Eiffel Tower was through the harshly scratched-up glass of a Paris Metro car. The lift room for the tower at Sagrada Familia was filled with carvings of every kid who ever had to stand in line. At Vardzia, the nearly thousand year old frescos outside the tiny cave-church are barely out of reach, but the feet of saints and angels are almost erased by names and pledges of young love.

To say the graffiti at this event is something completely different is an overstatement. Street art culture has evolved to form a collective conscience that keeps most of it on dilapidated buildings and other urban decay. It’s also become respected enough as medium that artists like Geb and Zepha now display their work in galleries. Another artist that was there, TOTEM2, does commissions for advertisement murals. But none of them honed their talent on municipal plywood in this much sunlight. They retain their credibility as street artists because they still get out at night and make art in the street.

Maybe it’s getting hard to use the word “defacement” any more when so many of those surfaces are being improved. But Zepha brought that term full circle in Toulouse, where the finished product of his work would only be fully realized through literal defacement by the public– ironically, the only defacement taking place at a graffiti exhibition. He described it on his site as “Calligraphic text and then covered… To be newly discovered by curious hands.”


Jun 2012



The Pups

This is one of the hard parts. Leaving behind our sweet pups. They’ve trampled and nuzzled and flopped into our hearts to become our four-legged children even though we always rolled our eyes at “those types of people.”

Frieda and Ivan

Frieda and Ivan. LOOK AT THEM.

Frieda, a Boston Terrier, is 4. She and her brother Herbie were born in a puppy mill one February, then they spent a hopeless spring in Missouri chained outdoors, turning into knobby starvation victims. They were both rescued by Baxter’s Buddies and we adopted Frieda shortly after she reached a healthy weight (Herbie was adopted by a BB family member). To this day, she is obsessed with food and warm blankets. She’s also a shameless belly rub hustler, and with her silky coat, we’re quick to comply with her demands.

Ivan is two-and-a-half. Alicia’s sister’s coworker brought him home and before long, the landlord found out and threatened eviction. When we heard a Boston Terrier puppy needed a home, we were pretty happy to drive an hour away to pick him up, sight unseen. He’s a little maniac. Not as bright as Frieda, but just as endearing.

We’re incredibly fortunate that Ivan and Frieda have an official Fairy Dogmother. Alicia’s friend and former coworker, Rebecca, has loved them both from day one, as if they were her own. She and her husband Ed have a fenced backyard and a doggie door and her mother drops in to take them on walks during the day.  We’ll miss them dearly, but they’re getting just as much love and care from Rebecca, her husband Ed, and her mother Mary.  Couldn’t think of a better foster home for them!

I and F on the couch

May 2012

Hard stuff


Regarding Confidence

Yesterday included a bit of sleep-deprived stress, a first flight delay, a bit of confusing / lacking canadian airport signage, a bit of a check-in computer glitch accompanied by a frazzled attendant, a bit of panicked running with my belt in one hand and a handwritten boarding pass in the other, and of course bit of classic fret and worry about decisions I’ve made about this year.

We touched down in Keflavik at 7am local time after watching the sun rise over tiny bits of ice floating in the Atlantic. The first wi-fi spot available was on the bus that drove us 45 minutes up to Reykjavik. Before even leaving the airport I read through maybe 40 Facebook notes from people who wished us well, shared our blog, and told us they would miss us.

A captivating scene of mountains and moss-covered fields of lava rock kept me from replying with more than a quick Icelandic “bless bless” at the time, but now that we’re all snug in our guest house and the first night is winding down, let me tell you how I really feel…

The confidence I had when I first decided to do all this has been affected by the constant and increasing fight between excitement and anxiety. Even right now as I type this the bewilderment that this is actually happening is more tangible than any confidence about this decision. The only thing more bewildering, which happens to also be the only thing I am truly confident about, is that we have been blessed with the best friends in the world.

The past couple weeks have been a marathon of goodbyes and last meals. We have so many friends who have encouraged us from the very beginning. We have friends who’s excitement for us outshines our own. We have friends who drove from neighboring towns and states to hug us one last time. We have friends who showed up at 6 am wednesday morning to see us off. Friends who passed us like a torch from Iowa City to Cedar Falls to Mason City to the Minneapolis airport. Friends who barely knew us when they invited us to live in their home in January, but hugged us goodbye as family. We love you all so much. We don’t have any other words but thank you.

- Tony

Apr 2012

Iceland, Iowa City