05 January 2019

A Dream Of The Open Road


"Cosmonauts of the autoroute, like interplanetary travellers (sic) who observe from afar the rapid aging of those who remain subject  to the laws of terrestrial time, what are we going to discover at camel speed after so many trips in airplanes, subways, and trains?"

They decided to call themselves "freeway-istas."  Their mission was simple, to load up their Volkswagen camper van (nicknamed Fafner after the dragon in Norse mythology) and take a trip from Paris to Marseilles on the AutoRoute du Sud, a limited access highway with tollbooths.  They had done this before, achieving a travel time of about ten hours.  Now, they proposed to stop at each rest stop (sixty-five of them in all, at a rate of two per day) making the trip in thirty-three days, all the while without leaving the freeway.  It was an experiment in reversing the speed that is the purpose and attraction of the modern highway.

"Parkingland is beautiful: it is ours, we are free within it, and we love it," they reported in their journal. Yet it was separated from private properties by fences. When Fafner's water pump broke they resorted to tarot cards for automotive advice.  Their dual solitude seemed to positively attract visitors.  Their only constant connection with the world at large was their dashboard radio.

They were Julio Cortazar and Carol Dunlop, two writers who had married in 1981 and their slightly surreal expedition began in May of 1982.  They knew they would write a book about their adventures so they took tongue-in-cheek scientific notes as they went.

Cortazar was born in a suburb of Brussels in 1914 while Belgium was occupied by the German army.  His mother moved with him to her native Argentina when Julio was six.  Cortazar emigrated to France in 1951 where he wrote most of his books and lived until his death in 1984.  He is best known experimental novel was Hopscotch (1963) whose chapters can read either in the order they are presented or in any other order the reader chooses.  His story Blow-Up was made into a sensational  film by Michelangelo Antonioni in 1966,  His story "The Southern Thruway", also about the AutoRoute du Sud,  influenced Jean-Luc Godard's 1967 film Week End.

Carol Dunlop was born in Quincy, Massachusetts  in 1946; she moved to Montreal where she married and gave birth to a son, Stephane Hebert, who illustrated Autonauts of the Cosmoroute.  In the 1970s Dunlop's  published  books included both fiction and nonfiction,  La solitude inachevee (1976) and Melanie dans le miroir (1980). Dunlop and Cortazar shared a strong commitment to political action, traveling to various countries, including Poland and Nicaragua.  Six months after completing  Autunauts of the Cosmoroute  Dunlop died: Cortazar died in February 1984.  This charming memento of a happy marriage is their memorial.


Pavel Pepperstein (b.1966) is a Russian artist and writer who was born in Moscow where he founded a group he called Inspection Medical Hermeneutics in 1987 with two other artists.  If the idea of storytelling  through of blend of semiotics and psychedelia sounds indigestible, not to worry.  As you can see,  Ppperstein's auto-dream El Lissitzky's Autosttrada in the Alps shows his admiration for the Russian avant-garde of the 1920s, the self-styled Suprematists. His work has been compared to that of Saul Steinberg for its use of the line style of handwriting in images as well as in words. As for the elusive Pepperstein, he salls himself a "psychedelic realist" - whatever that may be.  Only a brilliant draughtsman can pull this off.    In 2014 Pepperstein was awarded the Kandinsky Prize, Russia's highest award for contemporary art.

For further reading:
Autonauts of the Cosmoroute: a timeless voyage from Paris to Marseilles by Julio Cortazar & Carol Dunlop, translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean, with drawings by Stephane Hebert (1983), Brooklyn, NY, Archipelago Books: 2007.

Image:
Pavel Pepperstein - El Lissitzky's Autosttrada in the Alps, 2017, Nahodka, London.

Read more about Pavel Pepperstein - Calvert Journal

2 comments:

Tania said...

Surprising! I like.

Jane said...

Tania, it is such fun to read.
And you can read it in French. Or the original Spanish, too.