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    Maira Kalman

    Artist and New Yorker cover illustrator Maira Kalman speaks with Christine Muhlke about her mobile art kit, beach snacks in Tel Aviv, and murder mysteries in the shadows of the Great Pyramids.

    Maira Kalman and Rick Meyerowitz.
    Artist and author Maira Kalman’s work is filled with foreign delights. Indian snake charmers, Gertrude Stein’s Parisian drawing room, and honey cakes in Tel Aviv have appeared in her paintings and over thirty books, all drawn from nostalgia, history and experience—she is never without a sketchbook, very specific pens, and her iPhone on her travels. Her eye for design, her sense of color, and the beauty she finds in the mundane transports her viewers and readers to a joyful world, where candy wrappers, lost buttons, and antique forks become worthy of museum walls and vitrines.

    Her most recent travels have taken her to Bulgaria with choreographer John Heginbotham—she danced in his adaptation of her book, The Principles of Uncertainty—Vienna—to eat Sacher torte at the source, and Versailles. The search for good food—ideally with a historical context—often guides her trips, and her favorite souvenirs are often from restaurants, be they a plate from J Sheekey in London or a restaurant napkin used as a paint rag. (With the restaurants’ permission, of course!) It’s only fitting for the woman whose most recent pubilcation is Cake, featuring recipes from her friend Barbara Scott-Goodman and wistful paintings that, in perfect Kalman fashion, don’t actually correspond to the sweets featured. She wouldn’t have it any other way. And, because she creates such a wonderful journey, she can. Thank goodness!

    How do you capture your travels?I sketch, take notes, take many, many, many photos. And I collect ephemera: Stationery from hotels. Napkins from hotels. Postcards. Books.

    What’s in your mobile art kit?A Daler Rowney sketchbook. Two Flair pens. Two brush pens. My phone that is now my camera. That is it.

    What makes for the perfect souvenir?Often something I find in a flea market. Or in a great bakery or fancy candy shop.

    Who are your historical travel heroes?WG Sebald’s characters are always taking long treks through alpine landscapes and gritty cities. Then there is Thoreau. And then there is Robert Walser’s The Walk, where the main character walks for the entire novella. I like people who walk.

    "Yellow Layer Cake with Salted Caramel Glaze." © Maira Kalman, courtesy Julie Saul Gallery.

    When was the golden age of travel?Traveling with twenty trunks and Louis Vuitton suitcases to the pyramids at Giza. Some murder mystery would ensue. Obviously I have read too many Hercule Poirot mysteries. But why not.

    Where do you want to take your granddaughter for her first big trip? What foods do you want to introduce her to?In no particular order: Paris. Rome. London. Tel Aviv. I want her to love the big sights and the little things that happen. When we go to the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, I would like to spend a few hours running around with a ball. We won’t know what is going to happen, which is the thrilling part. Of course, I would like to have croissants in the morning and frites in the afternoon. In Rome we will go to the Villa Doria Pamphil gardens. We will definitely eat pasta every single day. In London we will go to Buckingham Palace, walk through Hyde Park. We will definitely have high tea every day. In Tel Aviv we will go to the beach with an egg sandwich with tomatoes and cucumbers. We will buy a lemon ice on the beach. We will go home for a nap.

    Your most recent book is on cake. What cake would you hop on a plane for?Now that I have sworn off sugar, it is a difficult question. But I think I would hop on a plane for my cousin’s honey cake. That would mean that we are in Tel Aviv, with the beautiful sea nearby. With cafés nearby. With sweet warm weather and a nice terrace to sit on.

    Where was your last vacation? Vienna, Austria.

    Where will your next vacation be? Versailles, France.

    The thing you can’t travel without? Sketchbook and pens. A few white shirts. A few pairs of black pants. Migraine medicine.

    Plane, train, or automobile? I have used all three happily. Depends on the schedule.

    The people you’d most like to sit next to on a long-haul flight? No one. I like to have time to read, sleep, eat. Alone.

    What is your in-flight ritual? If it is a long flight, I take a sleeping pill quite early in the trip in the hopes that I will sleep as long as possible. I try not to eat too much. I also might be knitting a sweater for a little child.

    The language you wish you spoke? Italian.

    When were you happiest on the road? In my twenties. With very little money, but being very much in love. Upstate New York. France. Spain. Everything seemed better. Tasted better. The road was open.

    Desert island or downtown? Both. How could I choose?

    If you could live at any hotel, which would it be? My dream IS to live in a hotel. I think it would be in Italy. And it would be in Tuscany. I am not sure which hotel. But if you offered me living accommodations at the Ritz in Paris, I would not say no.

    What is your room service indulgence? Breakfast on a tray. Every morning. I might also go down to the dining room, but at least coffee on a tray is a must.

    The strangest place you’ve spent a night? On the lawn of someone’s house that I did not know. We were hitchhiking and just found ourselves there.

    What is your favorite market? The flea market in Tel Aviv. The food market anywhere. And come to think of it, the flea market anywhere.

    If you could travel to any place in any epoch, which would it be? I would visit Marcel Proust in Paris at the turn of the century.

    What are the show-off spots in your hometown? Metropolitan Museum, Central Park, Sant Ambroeus café on Madison Avenue, and the Strand Bookstore.

    Which places would you happily spend a weekend, a week, a month, and a year? A weekend: Upstate New York.
    A week: Saint Petersburg, Russia.
    A month: Vienna.
    A year: Rome.

    Your biggest extravagance on the road? Buying clothing for my grandchild.

    Describe a memorable meal from your travels. So many. In Paris at Le Voltaire. Perfect food. Perfect service. Perfect tabletop.

    Travel hell is? Flying to Australia, I imagine.

    Where are you ashamed that you’ve never been? I’m not ashamed of anything like that.

    Three favorite stores on earth? J&L Lobmeyr in Vienna. Ted Muehling, New York. Makié, New York.

    Most treasured travel memento? Too many to choose from. But if I am forced: two pitchers from Seville.

    Why do you travel? To forget who I am. To be alive with new images and feelings. To sketch all day long. To sleep in a hotel. To order room service coffee in the morning. To forget who I am.

    Christine Muhlke
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