Rain on the windshield (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Sorry for the radio silence. I’ve been using my car as my studio and office.

Rest assured that I do rent a temporary apartment where I sleep very comfortably, but it is on the second floor of a medieval building that is just behind the second set of ramparts of my fortified town. The house’s stone walls are about two feet thick. The rampart is five feet thick and accented with arrow slits. It doesn’t make for very good cellular reception. The windows are tiny (but very defensible in case of zombie attack). There is no wired internet service. Sadly, all the interior walls were painted yellow at least two decades ago. So I’ve resorted to becoming friendly with the owner of the local café/bar next to the mairie (town hall) because I can get wifi at certain tables. Or going to my friend’s pizzeria at night to download a couple hours of Netflix and make a couple wifi calls to the States.

It’s not as bad as it seems. For instance, about a month ago, when I first got here, it was really cold and rainy. Too rainy to open the windows to get cellular service. After the third morning of these shenanigans, I packed up my stuff and tromped up the steep hill to where my car was parked. It was warmer in the car. I made a call to my buddy in Stockholm. We talked about art while a wild windstorm raged around me. It blew up over the mountain. Half the silver-clouded sky went blue-black, and I watched as a curtain of rain approached the crest of the mountain and then crossed the plain of the village toward me.

The other side of the mountain: view west at approaching storm, view east at receding sun, and horses and a donkey in the horse pasture

I ran into a local artist friend while I was at the café for wifi. She told me that Georgia O’Keeffe used to paint in her car because the desert sun was too strong. Here it’s the rain. I’m not complaining; the car will do for now but I would rather have a studio with windows and lots of light. #becausesanity

When I do need to work in my second story dungeon and access the internet on my computer, I tether it to my French iPhone and use my plan’s cellular data. Getting enough reception to make this happen isn’t easy. But I went to art school, which means I’m all about problem solving, right? So I made an antenna dish of sorts by wrapping a file folder with aluminum foil then taping it to form a curve. Then I taped my phone to the surface of the aluminum inside the curve and perched it outside my window. I downloaded a speed test app to see which way the dish should point. Luckily there are iron bars on my window that will keep my dish from falling off the windowsill and into the rubbish bins of the restaurant next door. Charming.

Aluminum-foil antenna dish, with cell phone

It’s 7:30. We’ve got at least another two hours of daylight. I’m in my car on the far side of that mountain I would see if my apartment were one story higher. The violent storms from earlier today ended a little after lunch. Now the sky is veiled with clouds — grey, purple and white. The sun’s rays pour through the rips in that veil of clouds, illuminating patches of grassy meadows and forests. Occasionally backlighting a solitary tree on a hill as if it were on fire.

There is no logic to the silhouettes of the mountains in the distance. It is a 15th -century landscapist’s nightmare. The patches of sun play havoc with atmospheric perspective, with the sudden sharp-focus appearance of a bright green mountain range behind the blurry, clouded blue-gray ridge of pastureland. I sit here with the car doors open on the side of the road in my post-studio studio. This week’s project is a commissioned portrait of my Swedish friend’s French bulldog (a small oil painting). Last week, I made watercolor landscapes; sometimes I make collages from the wildflower petals I gather from the meadows.

The wind picks up now and then, slightly rocking the car. I take a break to check Facebook. The crickets are too loud. I can hear the clank-clank of cowbells on the cattle on a far hillside — so small they look like burnt popcorn. I can hear the braying of one of the donkeys in the horse pasture about 200 meters down the hill — I passed them on the way up. I’ve just called my dad in Florida. And normally I would sit up here and write a bit more except I’m hungry. I should return to the bat cave.

More horses, and a donkey, in the horse pasture

My diet has been rather unspectacular compared to when I was living at the cooking school. The kitchenette in my dungeon is rather modestly furnished: an electric cooktop from the 1990s and a microwave oven of the same vintage. The fridge is more contemporary in that it has a separate freezer. I keep a bag of frozen AB (organic) chopped spinach in the freezer along with ample ice cubes for cocktails. Tonight, I will make a simple dinner of pan-seared pork chop and some frozen spinach. The spinach is frozen in thimble-shaped portions, half an ounce each, resembling very large suppositories. They make preparing a single serving very easy. The pork of course is locally raised and purchased from the farm store within walking distance of my apartment. I’ll deglaze the pan with Scotch whiskey. After a long day of art making in one’s car, it’s simple and it’ll taste great.

I’ll take a picture of it and upload it when I go to the pizzeria. Call me then.

Pan-seared pork chop with spinach puree

Pork Chop and Spinach Puree

(serves 1 in less than 10 minutes)

6 oz frozen spinach

2 T butter

1/2 t each mustard seed, fennel seed

3 cardomon seeds

salt and pepper

1 pork chop (approx 6 oz)

1-2 T whiskey (Scotch or Bourbon)

Frozen spinach, butter, mustard seed, fennel seed, and three cardomon seeds

Put butter, mustard, fennel and cardomon seeds in a microwaveable bowl. Cover with a paper towel and microwave for 60-90 seconds. It will be ready when the butter foams and begins to brown and the mustard seeds might begin to pop. But don’t let it burn! Add the frozen spinach to the bowl and continue to microwave for 3 minutes. 

Meanwhile, heat a skillet until its super-hot. Add a little butter to your pan if your chop is lean. Sear the pork chop on both sides (less than a minute each). (I season my chop before it goes in the pan; others wait until it’s cooked.) Once the chop is seared, put a lid on it and let it sit off the heat for 2-5 minutes (depending on the thickness). 

Spinach mixed with butter and seeds

Mix the spinach well and spoon onto your plate. Add the pork chop. Now splash a little whiskey into the still hot, empty skillet. It will sizzle and reduce a little, deglazing the brown bits in the pan. (If the whiskey doesn’t sizzle, put the burner on again.) When the whiskey has reduced in volume by half, you can swirl in pat of butter if you want. Pour the resulting sauce on the pork chop. Serve with bread or rice, as you please.


Elaine Tin Nyo is a conceptual artist with a kitchen and a studio in Harlem. Born in Burma, she learned to speak English watching Star Trek, to cook watching The French Chef, and art history by playing...

One reply on “Living without Wifi (with Recipe)”

  1. Tribal Bibles and Holy Moly, what a coincidence: I’ve hooked up my cellphone to a foil wrapped 1930’s waffle iron (for weight and texture) and a set of WW2 headphones, and, as a result, have been listening to my neighbors have makeup sex after rounds of intermittent all night arguing, screaming, crying and laughter punctuated by a neighbor below pounding the ceiling with her pogo stick. Which sends me out into the countryside in my converted armored car camper, which, for you gas guzzling aficionados, gets 4 miles to the gal. When I set up my easel in industrial ruins, I sketch the scene with finger paint, then head for the windowless vault of the back of my armored car, where I paint in kerosene light until I can’t breathe. So what if I quit my day job, after 34 years, I’ve saved enough, rolled into an old salted capers tin, to last the rest of my life, if I live for 6 weeks. Confession: I’ve been thinking about buying a double cemetery lot, digging out 2 connected rooms, roofing them with dirt-nap camouflage trick of the eye roofs, so the caretaker won’t bug me, and turning them into a tiny house artist’s studio and residence with composting toilet. I’ve done some fire and feces sculptures, been thinking about combining them with busts of famous political figures of our moment–imagine smoldering turdheads of the current occupant of the White House and his entourage lining the banks of the Monongahela on a wet night. It’s almost Father’s Day–mine’s long gone, so I want to wish all those dead fathers out there in urns, sarcophagi, and just rotting in the woods, even though it’s June, a merry mucking about.

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