Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cocktails in Wonderland

I am a downtown girl. No ifs and buts about it. I prefer the low key vibe and village atmosphere. But I have to admit that every now and then there is a teeny bit of Upper East Side in me as well. And when this side of me wants to come out, I head straight to a New York icon; Bemelman's Bar at the Carlyle Hotel on 76th Street.

It's not exactly a secret, but it is not often on a tourist's radar, which means your fellow sippers tend to be those died-in-the-wool, old-school New Yorkers. Built in the 1930's, the Carlyle has been considered a home away from home for many a socialite, actor, politician and everything in between. I'm not sure I would suggest to my friends to stay here, but I would always take a New York first-timer to Bemelmans.

The charm of this bar lies in its whimsical mural by Herr Ludwig Bemelman. Born in Austria, he moved to New York during WWI. He drew this mural in 1947 in return for accommodation. A fantastical depiction of Central Park, the walls of this haute New York establishment are filled with picnicking rabbits, elephants reading the newspaper and families of giraffes out for a Sunday walk. The childlike naivite of the mural may seem at odds with the elderly clientele of the bar sipping their sherry and listening to the resident pianist. But that is what makes it all so marvelous and so New York.

And a little piece of trivia. If you are trying to remember how you know the name Bemelman, perhaps it is becuase you - like I - were a fan of the Madeline books when you were a child. This same Mr Bemelman wrote and illustrated six Madeline books. You remember, "In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, there were twelve little girls in two straight lines." She even makes an appearance in Bemelmans bar.

images: rosewood hotels, vanity fair, artslant, flickr, boston, stay

Saturday, January 19, 2013


On Monday, President Obama gets "Sworn-In" for another presidency term. I remember how excited I was four years ago. It was my first American Inauguration and the country was poised for something truly monumental. Perhaps the excitement and expectation will be dimmed slightly this year, but no doubt Michelle Obama's fashion choice will still amaze and excite. Her lemon-colored J-Crew ensemble in 2009 blew the political and fashion worlds apart. Whoever had the gumption before Michelle to wear a high street brand to what was probably the most important day in her life! And my did she carry it off beautifully. And then to wear an "unknown" designer to the Inauguration ball that night (Jason Wu) was a brilliant move of confidence, independence and fashion agenda setting for the White House.  And even if Obama himself is somewhat greyer than 4 years ago, he is still a striking figure in an always well cut suit. I actually feel truly blessed to have such a good looking and capable couple leading this country.

So in honor of Monday's festivities, let's have a look at what the First Ladies of the past have worn for their husband's Inauguration.

Mamie Eisenhower, 1953

Jacqueline Kennedy, 1961

Lady Bird Johnson,  1963

Pat Nixon, 1969

Rosalynn Carter, 1977

Nancy Reagan, 1981

Barbara Bush, 1989

Hilary Clinton, 1993

Laura Bush, 2001

Michelle Obama, 2009

images: (1) penndems, (2,3) Life magazine, (4-5) Bettman, Corbis, (6) jimmy carter library, (7) on this day in fashion, (8) bush presidential library, (9) brennan, AP, (10) instyle, (11) vogue princess nailja 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

"You Aussies..."

As I return to New York from a blazing summer in Australia with bushfires burning out of control across much of Tasmania and NSW, I ask myself, what is it about Australia and Australians that is so hard for Americans to work out? Is it because we are from "down under" and that seems so remote that we must be a different species? Or is it because we have weird animals that hop instead of run, using their tail for balance? Is it our accents? Our desire to take more than 2 weeks holiday every year? Jealousy of our beaches? Fear of our top 10 poisonous snakes?

Don't get me wrong. I love living here and I love (nearly) every American I have the pleasure of meeting. But after 2 weeks in the laid back, happy, uncomplicated place I was born, I do always notice a slight condescension creep into the voice of my colleagues when I return. And certainly a questioning look of disapproval that I could have even considered not being back in the office on the day after New Year's day let alone actually not be there.

This year, instead of asking how my beloved country is faring in this headline-making dry and fire-driven season - and Lord knows we have asked America enough about their politics or gun laws - I am asked two fatuous questions on my first day back at work:

  1. Did you bring back Tim Tams?
  2. Do you have quokkas as pets? Apparently they are the happiest animals in the world!
How am I supposed to answer this second question? Yes! They sleep at the end of my bed in a basket! Just like there are kangaroos hopping down main street! I couldn't believe this was even a serious conversation until sure enough, I see The Huffington Post - which I have always applauded for interesting journalism up until now - wasted a whole article on informing the American people of a rarely mentioned or seen Australian marsupial who is apparently, the happiest animal in the world. This lovable creature has now replaced our other furry mascot, the koala, as the cutest thing in the world for Americans.

No wonder we aren't taken seriously. What with a PM like Julia Gillard - who is just a running joke here and at home - the media covering our "adorable" furry animals and inedible food outside of Oz such as Vegemite, it's hard to position ourselves as a cultural or economic world leader. Instead, I just get, "You Aussies, you're so funny!" But when we do crack a joke, they rarely get it! Maybe we're just funny weird instead of funny ha ha. 

Which brings me back to my original question. What is there not to get about us? Perhaps it's our laconic attitude to life that alot of career-driven Americans aspire to adopt but can't because of the relentless pressure to get into an ivy league college and then get paid millions before you can afford to send your own privately-educated kids to the next generation of unaffordable ivy league college and so on. Or maybe they are just completely baffled by us; our customs, attitudes, humour etc so it's easier to treat us like a joke rather than try and understand us in order to take us seriously. It certainly doesn't help when you see Warney turn from a great Aussie sporting icon into an over-tanned, primped and emasculated handbag. However, in the interest of spreading the positive things about Australia, I will continue to fly our flag proudly and try and educate my colleagues about elements other than quokkas and Tim Tams. 

I can only hope my 2013 will get better.

image: white gadget, huffington post