Sunday, June 24, 2012


Gone home for a week to kiss hello the aging parentals and cuddle these little wonders.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Snakes and Ladders without the snakes

Ok. I have been living in this city for nearly five years now - when do I become considered a New Yorker? - and I think half of that time has been spent underground, lost in the subway system.  If you use the subway in New York - and you would be crazy not to  at $2.25 a ride - one of the most monotonous, stultifying parts of every day is repeatedly climbing in and out of it. Like a mole, blindly digging. Up, down, up, down and down even further, before coming up, up and up even more. And don't be fooled into thinking those escalators beside the stairs work!

I calculated that I ascend/ descend 132 stairs a day just to get to and from work. That's 660 stairs a week, before taking into account going out at night, shopping on weekends and everything in between. And then maybe subtract a few for when you slip on the icy snow in winter at the top of the stairs and land with a thud at the bottom without having touched any steps in between.

I should be happy about all this. I like to think it's adding strength and shape to my legs and butt and giving me the workout I can't be bothered to do. It certainly beats using Stairmaster at the gym. But I think all it's really doing is adding varicose veins, breaking heels and inducing sore calf muscles. And pushing me further into the mire of close city living. The fetid smells of human lives swirl underground with no circulation of the putrid air.  And I'm sure it's not hygienic to have your face pushed into the rear end of a fellow stair climber ahead of you while someone behind you has their face pushed into yours. And as for summer, fuggedaboutit. Temperatures soar down there. It's hotter than a bikram yoga session and with far more sweaty bodies crushed against you. As temperatures hover around 35 degrees Celsius up top, down in the subway make that closer to 40 degrees. I have seen plenty of people faint, start reeling with dehydration and end up sitting on the disgustingly filthy steps some 200 metres underground.

And yet, we all continue to use it. In fact, on average, more than 5.2 million people use it on a week day according to the MTA figures. Out of necessity? Boredom? For a jolly? Because it is still the easiest, fastest and most economical way to get around Manhattan and the four other boroughs of New York. And it works in its oddly disjointed, humid, crowded way. But I still miss my car.......

Friday, June 15, 2012

Art and Wine in Provence

If you are in the Luberon Valley in Provence and tire of the myriad hill towns and lavender fields (I know, it's hard to get tired of that, but just try and use your imagination), there is an exciting new and relatively unknown art project going on in the region of Aix-en-Provence at a property called Chateau La Coste.

It is, first and foremost, a 250 acre winery tucked in between forests of oaks, fields of almonds and wildflowers. But in 2004, an idea was born to create a place where art, architecture and landscape came together. Artists and architects from all over the world were invited to visit Chateau La Coste and  then encouraged to choose a place that "spoke directly to them" where they could create something that would live there.

The list of names who finally participated is impressive: Tadao Ando built the Arts Centre and welcoming point for visitors. Jean Nouvel designed the wine making cellar and Gehry and Partners built the music pavilion. Artists whose sculptures are dotted around the landscape include Richard Serra, Alexander Calder, Paul Matisse and a surprise entry from Michael Stipe of REM fame!

It is a wonderful project and definitely worth scoping out. The best thing is it really jolts your point of reference because for most of us, Provence is all about ancient hill towns, fields of lavender and poppies, and men in berets playing boules under huge plane trees. But suddenly, this image is disrupted with a more contemporary version of Provence today.

There is a mapped walk you can do to see each piece in its environment. And at the end of a couple of hours of wandering, you return to Ando's streamlined building to eat a heavenly lunch overlooking the vineyards.

To set the scene

Rolling hills of vines, olives and oaks

The clean lines of Tadao Ando's Welcome building

Louise Bourgeois

Alexander Calder

More Tadao Ando

Richard Serra

Liam Gillick

Tom Shannon

Chapel: Tadao Ando, Croix: Jean-Michel Othoniel

View from inside the chapel

Michael Stipe

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Art of Just Being

Silence is a source of great strength
- Lao Tzu

Do you have a life mission? Do you want to re-write your current life story and replace it with a new, more positive one?

These lofty ambitions were considered on our corporate retreat last week. My first reaction was that my life story is just fine thank you! But then as the hours wear on and you start to focus on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of this personal story, the cracks begin to appear on at least one level.

It can become quite overwhelming when you suddenly realize that maybe you don't have a life mission and then you start questioning if that means you don't have a life purpose? And how do you find one? After four intense days of being given the tools to be the "best person you can be,"  it was confronting to sit there and think that maybe I was a lesser person because I couldn't think what my mission is. I guess that is the existential crisis that every philosopher goes through 24/7 !

So after a week of movement and action and constant striving to be a better person and all-American corporate "rah rah-ing", I decided to just 'be' for a day. On Sunday, I walked from my apartment across the street into an oasis of calm that I have lived beside for the past five years and never entered. I chose the lovely empty seat you see above and took a couple of hours to - literally - smell the roses. I wandered the brick paths, visited the goldfish, sat under a tree and listened to the world carry on around me.

I do think it's important to continue to grow as a person, but I also think it's important to take time out and enjoy who you are now. Even thought it wasn't silent around me - it's Manhattan for heaven's sake - it was nice to be silent in my head for a moment. I think I will start growing again tomorrow.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Call to Alms

I got back from my corporate bootcamp on Friday. The intense week made me aware of a lot of things both personally and professionally. One was how absence makes the vision grow more acute.  When you live in Manhattan, you grow accustomed to all the panhandlers because you live with them every day. But after spending five days in the peaceful green surrounds of a hallowed tertiary centre of learning, suddenly the picture back here is not so rosy.

Have you ever wondered, if you were suddenly out on the street with nothing, no friends, family, credit line or bed, how would you ask strangers for money? I have thought about this. Often. Have you ever considered the myriad of variations open to you? Do you simply ask? Sit with a sign? Sing and dance? Which one is the most effective? Or are they all dependent on the type of stranger you are asking? The time of day? The location? I'm sure most of these people don't apply such rigorous thinking to their actions to get food or shelter or a cigarette or even a drink. But from the giver's perspective, maybe we have to think about it and weigh up who we think needs our money the most or deserves it the most, because unless you are Gandhi, most people can't offer alms to every single person that asks them every single day. Or can we and should we? But believe me, in this city, there are alot.

Below is a typical selection of panhandlers you may encounter in Manhattan from the time you leave your apartment for work to when you return after dinner or a Broadway show. You decide who you would give your money to:

  • Mother from what sounds and looks like Eastern Europe walking through the carriages of the subway train begging for money in broken english with child in tow. It's illegal by the way to ask for money on the subway
  • Two guys on the subway with a tambourine and guitar singing Moon River completely out of tune - also illegal on the subway
  •  Outgoing 50-something Caucasian male brazenly walking up to random people on the street asking for a dollar because he has an emergency he has to get back to in New Jersey - "I swear to God". When someone does give him a dollar - without even stopping as he gets the money out of his pocket - the panhandler asks, "Have you got another two or three?"
  • Older black male sitting on the pavement outside Citarella, an expensive gourmet supermarket asking, "Can you spare some change today?"
  • Young white girl sitting on a blanket in Union Square with a dog beside her and a cardboard sign reading, "I've lost my job, I'm pregnant and have no home. Please help."
  • Thirty-something African male sitting on a large battered suitcase in midtown with a sign reading, "Please help me get a plane ticket home."
  • Amputee in a wheelchair at the lights. When the traffic has stopped, he rolls past each car with his palm outstretched
  • War Veteran sitting on the steps of the subway. His sign is simple. "Iraq Vet. Help."
  • Group of break dancers doing an impressive routine to very loud and rousing music in the Times Square subway - legal assuming they have their permit
  • Young guy with a sign reading, "I'm not going to lie. I need a beer. Please help."
  • Fundraising drive by New York City Coalition Against Hunger at a street fair. Donations go to helping feed the estimated 1.5 million low income New Yorkers who do not have enough money for food. NYCCAH operates 1100 soup kitchens and food pantries throughout the five boroughs
This is a real day here that any New Yorker could share with you. And each person has a compelling story I'm sure. Mayor Bloomberg says the panhandling situation is "under control" and in fact better than it used to be. He argues there are less people asking for money in the subway. While that may be true, there are now more people asking at the entrances. So, which of these people are you going to help today? Or are you going to ignore or step over/ away from each one and let "someone else" help them out? Or will you send your money to an NGO like NYCCAH to make sure it is "spent wisely" and distributed "fairly"? This choice is all of ours. And it's a really difficult choice.

image: gothamist

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Corporate Bootcamp

I leave today for Bryn Mawr, an imposing looking college in Pennsylvania. I have been invited to my company's "corporate bootcamp" for a week, to get mentally and physically fit.  Really, it's like going back to college but with a full syllabus every day. We sleep in dorms, get woken at 6am for compulsory exercise every morning, go to study hall after dinner and fill our days with negotiation skills, marketing case studies and decision making lectures. I'm excited - and scared. When was the last time you shared a bathroom with a senior male executive?!

image: find a home in pa