as the present now will later be past

Time travel doesn’t exist; it cannot exist. Don’t let any quantum physyicist tell you otherwise. And yet, in fact I did manage to travel through time, when I got on a train to Charleroi, my home between ’99 and ’00. I live on the other side of the world now, and was stepping back to take a look around at a life I used to lead. Now that is time travel.

down by the sambre

Nothing had changed. Well, not nothing exactly; the shops were now open on Sundays, and there was a new little mini-supermarket right by to where I used to live (which would have been really handy back when I lived there), but otherwise, Charleroi was still the same: unpolished, post-industrial, and very familiar. This is not a tourist town; Bruges it aint, and all the better for100_3487 it. We had a classic Carolo night out; went to my usual places, rubbed shoulders with locals, had Kwak and Charles Quint at la Cuve à Bière (where the people are all the same as before), chatted drunkenly in the smoky Irish Times, staggered up to the excellent popular all-night friterie Chez Robert for a mitraillette de dinde (I am astonished I could still find it after all this time), and then a couple of Fanta Citrons in the morning for the hangover. The freezing cold sun helped too. While waiting for a train, I drew the picture above on tha banks of the murky Sambre (or at least most of it; the ink in my micron pen started complaining about the cold, so I finished it later). We walked about town, I wandered about in my memories and took plenty of photos, and drew La Vigie, the tall building where I used to live on the 13th floor when I taught at the U.T.
la vigie

It was a fleeting visit, really (there’s not that much reason to stick around in Charleroi in the cold). Who knows when I’ll ever be back. I’m really glad I went though, and visited the increasingly-distant past, but it was even nicer to get back to the future.

not that pelé

yohann pelé

Yohann Pelé, goalkeeper for French club Le Mans (who according to France Football wants a move to Angleterre), and my illustration friday entry for this week, theme being ‘pale’. Yes, Pale. And this guy’s name is Pelé, which is close enough, right? but it’s not that Pelé, it’s one who surely pales in comparison (oh please). Plus he’s wearing a pale blue kit.

I wanted to draw a footballer from my France Football paper (which I bought in Belgium; can’t get it here in Davis, but I accumulated a massive pile of them when i lived in France, best footy paper in the world). I wanted to do some sketching in pencil and coloured pencil, I was playing around with it, and I like it.

la vie est belge

eurostarA few days after Christmas, a friend and I went over to Belgium, where I used to live what feels like a lifetime (but was less than ten years) ago. I spent a year in Charleroi between 1999 and 2000, my time there culminating with the now infamous visit of the chair-throwing England fans. It was a year that has shaped a lot of my imagination, though I did little but eat frites drowned in sauce, drink and learn about beer at la cuve à bière, and play the guitar (writing songs about this, about that). That is, however, the life. We took the early Eurostar to Brussels, and walked around the busy post-noel streets, surprised to find that there was no rain whatsoever – I nearly didn’t recognise it in the sunshine. I like Brussels. I drew at the Grand Place, crowded, touristy, disgustingly ornate, but necessary for a budding urban sketcher to draw. I wasn’t going to seek out the urban grit – we were going to Charleroi later that evening, and there would be plenty of that.

it's a lovely place

le luxembourg, charleroiI stopped in a shop I loved when I was living there: Grasshopper, an amazing store that sells all sorts of toys and books. I wanted to buy some French board books for my baby son (decided not to go with teaching him Flemish just yet). However, while I was sketching, I must have put them down and forgotten about them (very unlike me*). I went back to the store and bought some more, and asked if anybody had returned them. Non, they told me, ils sont bye-byes. Yeah, cheers.  So, we took a very modern double-decker train south to the city of Charleroi, and while Roshan napped in the hotel, I ventured out into the freezing dark evening to do some night-time pre-pub sketching, and drew Le Luxembourg, a place which although very pretty, I have never actually entered. While drawing, I kept my eyes on the shadows for, er, shadowy people,  happy to be back in my old town.

*I do tend to lose things in Brussels, though. I lost my favourite top here once, in 1999. I wrote a song about that too. It was white with thin black hoops. If you find it, let me know; it might still fit.

what up dog


I drew a dog. Doesn’t happen very often. I’m not a dog person. But this dog is cool, and just staying out of the way, while other dogs and a canine-loving baby (who now says “dog-gie!” very clearly) get on with it. This is my brother-in-law’s dog Nalu (I have no idea how it is spellt), drawn quickly yesterday.

sketchcrawl 21, santa rosa

I wasn’t intending on doing the 21st sketchcrawl, but i managed to go out sketching in the afternoon while visiting in santa rosa, and did a few drawings around 4th street. A mini sketchcrawl. I also wanted to try out my new REI sketching stool. It was very comfy.
santa rosa
4th st, looking upFunny thing, but whenever I sketch in Santa Rosa I’m never that happy with the shading or the colours. I don’t know what it is. It is different there, very different from Davis. Different trees, different light, different air. More ‘pacific’. It is also the first place I ever went to in America. I did a couple of quick drawings in sepia, before going back to colour. The second one is of Snoopy; Charles Schultz lived in Santa Rosa, this was his town. All over town there are now these statue things of Snoopy. It’s a bit like when towns in Europe used to have those those statuesque cows everywhere, all painted differently. I remember Zurich and Berlin also have bears.

snoopyAfter drawing Snoopy, I walked down to Traverso’s, next to the Transit Mall. It is an Italian deli place, full of excellent cheeses and wines and biscotti and stuff. I remember a while ago I spoke to the guy who works there, maybe traverso himself, and spoke football. Calcio. He tld me all his family support Roma, but he supports Lazio. Or it may have been the other way round. Anyway, I did overhear some talk about Beckham playing for AC Milan while in there sampling cheese. I like Traverso’s. Not massively happy with the drawing though.

I finished off by supping a red top beer at the 3rd St Aleworks. Speaking of red tops, a guy and his girlfriend sat down next to me, and he took off his jacket to “show his colours”, revealing an Ars*nal shirt, complete with Fabr*gas on the back. I had to roll my eyes. Dear oh dear.

Anyway, so this was my mini-sketchcrawl. Next one (#22) is in April, so I hear… 

soho continued

broadwick street, soho

pete sketchingPart 2 of Soho sketching day. This is Broadwick Street, and that is the Blue Posts pub, which I also sketched in ’07. In the distance, Centre Point. There I am, to the left, drawing this very scene.  My nephew and I chatted while I drew, then went to art shops, foreign language bookshops, football shirts shops; I lamented the lameness of anthony asleep on the tubeCarnaby Street, navigated through short-cuts and alleys, reminisced about nights out I can barely remember. I do see Soho as a city with a city, and one with tiny neighbourhoods of its own, and I could draw it endlessly, but the end of the afternoon came quickly, and so we got the tube back up the Northern Line, my tired nephew sleeping much of the way back (and giving me a chance to attempt some tube-train sketching; here is the result…)

A good day was had by all!

where other broken people go

Still not finished with these sketches from London! A few weeks ago, I went out early on the Saturday morning before Christmas with my nephew anthony for a sketchcrawl around the narrow and interesting streets of Soho. It was perfect sketching weather, not too cold; did I mention that it never rained the entire time I was back in London? The entire time? In December?

in the middle of soho square

It’s true. Back when I visited in Summer, it rained on every single day. I was actually preparing for rain-soaked sketching. “On a rainy night in Soho,” that might have been the title. It wasn’t even cold. So we began in Soho Square, and I did the picture above. Weekend before Christmas, steps away from the busiest shopping street in Britain, and it was calm, not busy. I grew to love Soho years ago, I learnt all its alleys and short cuts, appreciated all its quirks. In the mid-nineties, the post-club 4am stop was Bar Italia, on Frith Street (it was Italians who brought me there), the only time I ever drank a cappucinno (I am not a coffee drinker), and it hasn’t changed. Pulp sang a song about it once. There it is below, sketched as we sat in Caffe Nero (I always thought it said Caffe Nerd) opposite having soup (I know, I should have gone to Bar Italia rather than a chain cafe, but I wanted to draw the cool place; besides, going there in daylight hours without the echo of heavy music still ringing in my ears just seemed kinda wrong).
bar italia

That clock is wrong by the way. And John Logie Baird used to live there. He probably couldn’t hear the telly for all the noise outside.

Part 2 to come…