Catch an Expeditious App and Put It In Your Pocket!

Geolocation is integrated into Fodor's City Guide apps.

Six cities have updated wanderlusting apps from Fodor’s Travel, who has announced the re-launch of their City Guide apps for iPhone and iPad (Nook and Android versions are in the works). The free apps now integrate partner functionality from Expedia, OpenTable and Ticketmaster, and are available for New York City, Paris, London, Rome, Barcelona and San Francisco. They offer geolocation features and interactive offline maps, which are powered by developer Red Foundry’s new Fusion Platform, the world’s first network uniting app developers and publishers with service providers.

Travelers can book hotels through the Expedia Affiliate Network, make dinner plans with OpenTable, and buy show and concert tickets through TicketsNow, Ticketmaster’s resale marketplace. The geolocation features allow sojourners to see what is nearby by interest—categories include what to see, what to eat, shopping, nightlife/arts, and where to stay.

Arthur Avenue in the Bronx is a trendsetter's alternative to Little Italy in Manhattan. Photo by Paul Clemence.

I decided to take the New York City app for a test drive on my iPad, and it nailed my location quickly. I agreed with many of the “what to see” listings it put up, several of which I would recommend for tourists visiting NYC who want more than the usual suspects of places to see. One of which was Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, which my pal and architectural photographer Paul Clemence has photographed so eloquently, as the above photo proves.

Fodor's City Guide Apps Offer OpenTable Reservations.

The “what to eat” suggestions were a bit all over the place but I did ask for the best recommendations in New York City without determining a culinary style, and the fact that they could narrow it down as tightly as they did impressed me! Shopping brought up everything from Betsey Johnson in SoHo to Beads of Paradise in the Flatiron District and the Bedford Cheese Shop in Brooklyn, which I have frequented (and give the app a high five for referencing).

The oh-so-edgy tiki bar Painkiller wasn’t listed under “Nightlife & the Arts” (though I’ll admit, it would probably cause anyone who is less than an intrepid traveler to freak out when standing on the street in front of the bar’s address and see no discernable sign of a party until someone entering or exiting opened the graffiti panel serving as the venue’s door)-steamy! Pegu Club is there—excellent sourcing by featuring this mixology-driven venue, Fodor’s.

The Lower East Side has its own version of a hip, Parisian cafe for writers and filmmakers to hang.

Kudos to the travel experts for listing the Pink Pony on the Lower East Side. Any café with a mural of Arthur Rimbaud on the wall and a tagline like “Café Littéraire & Ciné Club” is high on my “kicky and quirky venues” list, which we locals pride ourselves in compiling for those times we want something out-of-the-ordinary. The Field Notes section is great—the perfect place for accumulating the lists you’d like to share with friends who will be visitng the same city or for resourcing your highlights the next time Hērmēs, the god of travel, wings you to the same town.

Sax in the City has only one request of the developers: I would like to have seen an easier search function for places by name. Those of us who travel frequently, especially travel journalists who are writing about cities, often go armed with recommendations for venues to experience. This app only allows search by previously determined categories unless it’s not obvious and if it’s not obvious to me someone using this level of technology for the first time wouldn’t likely find it. That said, these apps are definitely well worth the time it takes to download them. Off I go to Paris (if only)!



Marguerite Duras

Marguerite Duras

Is there a reason to be optimistic? No. There isn’t just one. There are many. The sun scaled my scrap of sky this morning; I am writing this, the open books on the smooth surface of my desk cupping each other like clam shells filled with briny juice and delicate pearls; I have a splendid legacy of authors who came before me, daring to break new ground with their pens, typewriters and keyboards; last and most exciting of all, I am about to make a pilgrimage to France to visit the town where one of my favorite writers, Marguerite Duras, penned some of her most dynamic works. I’ll be staying in the very building (which is now a hotel) in which she had an apartment in Trouville, a town in Normandy sluiced by brisk ocean waters and buffeted by maritime winds.

The beach at Trouville

The beach at Trouville

Largely locked in her apartment at Les Roches Noires for days on end, Duras wrote The Malady of Death among other books. The prolific author penned plays, screenplays and novels; and directed films and theater, culled largely from her own material. One of her biographers, Laure Adler, wrote of her, “She became an excellent administrator of her own talent, constantly recycling Duras.” Le Monde called The Malady of Death “…an extended haiku on the meaning of love…” Duras’ writing was enigmatic in many cases: the film India Song, for example, holds dialogue that rolls along with a hypnotic repletion of the word “yes” spoken by a voice detached from human form. The word continually answers questions spoken by another voice sans body.

Claude Monet painted the Les Roches Noires

Claude Monet painted the Les Roches Noires

One of her best-known works outside of France is The Lover, which is said to be semi-autobiographical and based upon her childhood in Vietnam. In the book she wrote, “The story of my life doesn’t exist. Does not exist. There’s never any center to it. No path, no line. There are great spaces where you pretend there used to be someone, but it’s not true, there was no one.”

It has taken me years to make this trip happen, the seed of which was planted when I saw the film Cet Amour-Lá by Josée Dayan. The movie is based upon Duras’ years in Trouville when a young man named Yann Andréa Steiner came into her life. The film is a moving tribute to Duras’ appetite for the written word and her drive to get it on the page even when alcohol and cigarettes took their toll on her health. I share this determination to make a mark as a writer and this trip will be my heartfelt homage to her lust for language and determination to make her writing wholly unique.

At the end of The War: A Memoir, Duras wrote, “It’s dark. I can’t see the words I’ve written any more. I can’t see anything except my motionless hand which has stopped writing to you.” She’s one of the brave writers who inspire me to continue working even when self-doubt and feelings of arrogance that what I have to say matters creep in. She’s one of the reasons I have been able to continue posting The Road to Promise, even when I wondered why I would. I can’t wait to breathe in the salty air from that swath of shoreline at the edge of the English Channel. “There are reasons to be optimistic?” “Yes.”


Ardor in the Court!

The Pompadour Settee by Currey & Company

The Pompadour Settee by Currey & Company

The French Court was already moving toward excess long before the opulence reached its peak with the overindulgences of Queen Marie Antoinette, who had the perfect predecessor in Madame de Pompadour, the famed mistress of Louis XV from 1745 until her death in 1764. Before she was anointed Madame to the king, the Marquise de Pompadour, or Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, was known as a dramatic socialite on the court scene. Her first meeting with the monarch took place at a royal masked ball.

She was costumed as a shepherdess while the king was decked out as a topiary. And the rest, as they say, is history.Well, I say god bless them and their gilded little hearts. Where would the antique business be without all the glitz and glamour? Could you imagine an over-the-top marble-clad hall filled with primitive antiques? As much as I love them, absolutely not!

The fall market at High Point gets underway tomorrow and one of my favorite companies is rolling out several new lines of furnishings, one of which includes this Pompadour Settee. It radiates that special Currey & Company sophistication that I always admire.

Can’t you just see the Madame herself, draped delicately across the upholstered cushion with her ornate pointy slippers barely touching the floor as she feigns swooning when her royal lover enters her salon? Would she notice the double caning or the hand-applied finish that has been antique washed and accented with fold leaf? Probably not; she’d be too busy adjusting the down-wrapped foam cushions in order the create the best effect as she batted her eyes at the men in the room!

If you doubt the drama demanded by the courtiers of her and Antoinette’s time, this masked ball scene from Patrice Leconte’s film Ridicule provides a tiny taste of the treacherous tactics the social climbers would go to gain fame. Pity the man with the red beak while enjoying the amazing Fanny Ardant!


At this lone hour…

Villa Roccabruna (back in the day)

Villa Roccabruna (back in the day)

I’m taking a tour of Italian properties, one of which is CastaDiva in Lake Como. I arrived this afternoon to crisp air and a faint haze hovering around the undulant slopes that ring the beautiful body of water. I’ve been reading Percy Bysshe Shelley, who spent some time with Lord Byron in Lake Como one summer. The idea that two such great poetic minds would have come together in such a delicious setting has always fascinated me and I feel blessed as a writer to get to soak in the atmosphere, thinking for a moment that I’m channeling the energy that feeds the future of the poetic arts.

Shelley, who left England with his second wife Mary in 1818, was mesmerized by Italy and toured many of the country’s greatest cities. He wrote “Adonais” and “Prometheus Unbound” while traipsing from town to town before he drowned in the Bay of Spezia on July 8, 1822, aboard his boat “Don Juan” during a storm.  As I was flying into Milan today, skimming above the Alps in a plane, I began a poem, a work in progress, that felt incredibly good to write.

I’ll be penning more practical reports of my time here, of course, but for tonight (it is evening here), I’m sending you these heartfelt lines that soothed me after a non-stop filled-to-the-brim-with-activity trip to London to see Johnny Grey’s launch of his new kitchen furniture line at Decorex. Shelley made the same trek I made this morning, though he didn’t fly from London, of course. During his first spring in Italy, remarks John Lehmann, who wrote Shelley in Italy, “each step he took seemed to increase his enthusiasm, and also his power of description…He began by thinking of staying in Como, the first Italian scene to be celebrated in his poetry (in Rosalind and Helen).” In the poem, Shelley’s protagonist warns, “Remember, this is Italy,/ And we are exiles.” Oh, but to be exiled here!

Ode to the Alps

Mountains heave themselves

toward haze-capped shelves of azure,

the highest peaks aglow

as the sun effervesces the snow.


Green valleys lumber through gorges

punctuated by grids of sienna

as the edge of the range gives way

to a concerto of crags—

white billowing down the slopes

and heaped inside the tallest pockets,

mouths gaping to the sky.


Roadways are sliced into mountainsides—

snail-like wanderings as they zig and zag

toward the high terrain.

The sculpted fringe of the highest peaks

are stiff, fluted cuffs

on an ancient poet’s sleeves—

the frozen fabric deftly starched taut.


The plane of crops square-dance up to

the hulking walls of stone, some of which loom

above the horizon and into a dowsing of blue

holding in its grasp a ghostly moon.

In Lake Como the mountains hunker down,

their backs hunched against the beauty

of a gemmed lake they cannot take.

-Saxon Henry

If you want a rather contemporary take on the subject of Byron’s and Shelley’s days in Lake Como, Haunted Summer is a fun flick to watch for imagining what the two bad boys in their age might have been up to!


The Pillow Book of Saxon Henry

One of my favorite movies is “The Pillow Book,” a film by Peter Greenaway based upon The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, a collection of anecdotes and memories of an eighteenth-century courtier at the height of Japan’s Heian culture. Shonagon’s chronicling of Japan’s high society of her time was as varied as her interests. There were politics, of course, flirtations galore (“sex and the writing table” comes to mind), and a fair number of explorations of nature.

In entry number 137, entitled “Clouds,” she wrote: “I love white, purple, and black clouds, and rain clouds when they are driven by the wind. It is charming at dawn to see the dark clouds gradually turn white. I believe this has been described in a Chinese poem that says something about ‘the tints that leave at dawn.’ It is moving to see a thin wisp of cloud across a very bright moon.”

The Pillow Book Sei Shonagon by Hisashi Otsuka

The Pillow Book Sei Shonagon by Hisashi Otsuka

I thought it would be fun to come up with my own pillow book entry to get this week off to a lyrical start. Here’s my nod to Shonagon’s artful idea: “I love a soft, many-pillowed bed overlooking a wide sky of cerulean; lavender scents wafting on balmy breezes. It is charming to see the heavens steal the sun’s power and toss it to the horizon when it is dusk it desires.

I do not know if this has been described in a Chinese poem, but I believe it would be recounted ‘the hues that arrive as day leaks away.’ “It is moving to see the golden orb burn the canopy of trees shielding the earth from its incessant invasion.” Makes me want to hop on a plane to Japan! Shonagon left her book as a sort of memoir.

I am now recording My Pillow Book entries on my Improvateur blog; I hope you’ll stop by and take a peek! Oh, and happy roaming everyone, even if you are merely a mental traveler on this fine day…

You can see the beautiful art of Hisashi Otsuka on his web site!


“He was too fragile for this world” -Madonna

I trekked downtown to the Film Forum yesterday to see Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child. What a poignant film about the life and struggles of the renowned artist. I felt the film captured his drive to be second to none so beautifully—from his days living hand-to-mouth on New York City’s gritty streets to a passion for his works even after he’d “made it” that found him returning from a party in an Armani suit and not even considering taking it off before he began painting.

He remarked in the film that asking him to describe his work was like asking Miles [Davis] to describe how his horn sounds. “I enjoy that they think I’m a bad boy,” he said, smiling impishly—one of the most captivating aspects of the film was getting to see him so vibrantly alive. It felt as if he had never died, and I can see why his friend, Tamra Davis, a burgeoning filmmaker when she taped him, had to put the reels away until she was ready to deal with his passing.

Jean-Michel Basquiat in his heyday

Jean-Michel Basquiat in his heyday

One of the most interesting facts to come from the film in terms of how brutal the art world can be is the fact that when the Museum of Modern Art turned down the first painting his dealer asked if they’d take for their collection, the rejection stated: “his work isn’t worth the space.” Ann Temkin, the museum’s current chief curator of painting and sculpture, explained that for someone considering art in a historical context as she does, it is often uncomfortable to accept the art of the future for inclusion in the collections of hallowed institutions like MoMA.

I deem Julian Schnabel the most quotable presence in the documentary (he made his own film about Basquiat, which he explains in this film as being the answer to the numerous times Jean-Michel asked him what he thought about something). “My film was my answer to him,” he said. He also remarked that Basquiat didn’t have the tools to “navigate the sea of shit” that comes with the territory when an artist becomes famous. His other line I loved is, “The summer is a Mother Fucker in New York.” This set an ominous tone as the documentary sadly rolled toward Basquiat’s drug overdose.

"To Repel Ghosts," 1986. Acrylic on wood. Collection Pierre Cornette de Saint Cyr

“To Repel Ghosts,” 1986. Acrylic on wood. Collection Pierre Cornette de Saint Cyr

One of the things I didn’t know about Basquiat is that he began painting on found objects, like doors and windows he’d cull from the streets of lower Manhattan because he couldn’t afford canvases. This is a long-standing practice of self-taught artists like Purvis Young, whose work is being shown at the Miami Art Museum through November 7.

For more information about the show and the Miami-based folk artist, who died in April 2010, visit my Examiner page. If the Basquiat film doesn’t land in a theater near you, you can reserve it on Netflix and be one of the first to see it on DVD when it is released. Any fan of modern art really should see it. The subtitle of the film was taken from this article written by Rene Picard, which is definitely worth a read.


I’m Looking For Corny…

I was in Las Vegas not long ago and I was struck, as I always am, by the triteness of the town. Granted, I was only there for about 14 hours, but the over-the-top plasticity of everything was difficult to digest. I was thinking about when I was there in the 1970’s while attending a convention at the MGM Grand, and I remembered having my photo taken during a dinner with a handful of my clients in the outdoor billboard industry. God, I fit right in: I was wearing polyester for grief’s sake!

Just looking at the photo made me think of the line by Kate Winslet’s character Iris in “The Holiday” when Arthur Abbott said to her, “If it’s corny…you don’t have to wear it.” Iris replied, “I’m looking for corny in my life.” Iris would simply love Las Vegas; too bad the film didn’t send her on holiday there!


Building Dwelling Thinking

The Pritzker Architecture Prize winner was announced yesterday. Congratulations to SANAA for receiving the prestigious recognition. I thought I’d treat Roaming By Design readers to a lecture by a remarkable architect, which I heard while attending Cersaie in Bologna, Italy, last fall. Before attending the fair, I knew I would see a mind-boggling array of ceramic tile products from some of the world’s leaders in the global marketplace, but what I didn’t expect was being able to hear an array of inspiring speakers talk passionately about design and architecture. Starchitect Renzo Piano regaled a sizable crowd of international media during the fair and then turned his charm on fascinated fans in a packed outdoor theater—both talks were full of the vim and vigor for which the wily architect is known. Take a look at his advice to young architects on my Examiner page.

Michael P. Johnson presenting "Living in the Desert" at Cersaie

Though it’s always enjoyable to have an opportunity to hear what “the lauded ones” might say, one of my favorite lectures during the fair was Michael P. Johnson’s “Living in the Desert.” I asked the Arizona-based architect extraordinaire if I could share his heartfelt presentation with Roaming By Design’s readers, and lucky for us, he said yes! The über-appreciator of all things Italian had this to say:

I would like to thank those responsible for extending the invitation to me to participate in this important conference “Building Dwelling Thinking.” Over fifty years ago I was first introduced to the beauty and culture of this great country. When I was a young boy there appeared on the silver screen the incredible and unforgettable Sophia. In 1958 I was working in the field of architecture and read what was, in my mind, the most important book on the subject Architecture as Space by the profound critic, Bruno Zevi. We began a written exchange that turned into a life-long friendship. My correspondence with Mr. Zevi was the genesis of my unrelenting commitment to architecture. Through the years, my personal studies and readings about architecture have consistently highlighted Italy’s important contributions. In 1960 I subscribed, of course, to Architectural Forum, and in those pages discovered the talents of Arizona’s Paolo Soleri. I was deeply moved and stimulated by his fabulous designs for visionary cities, bridges and dams. We, too, began a correspondence and remain friends to this very day.

Also in 1960 I married, and like many newlyweds, I was in a position to select dining flatware to be used in our home. The choice was obvious to me: Gio Ponti’s Diamond silverware design, a pattern that is still much in demand at design auctions worldwide. By 1970 my architectural practice was in full swing. When faced with the task of choosing a typewriter, the only machine in my purview was the Olivetti Valentine, due to the functional beauty of the machine. Of course, its design was again Italian. I continue to turn to the products designed and manufactured in Italy. The list includes tiles, kitchen cabinets, closets, bathroom fixtures, lighting fixtures, and on and on. The products, with their elegance and beauty, are the architect’s assets in the creation of architecture.

Now to turn to the topic at hand: Building Dwelling Thinking. I would hope that those in attendance at this conference took the time to read Martin Heidegger’s 1951 essay, “Building Dwelling Thinking.” In it he states “we shall try to think about dwelling and building. This thinking about building does not presume to discover architectural ideas, let alone to give rules for building.” Heidegger eliminates art and beauty from his analytical treatise about what equates architecture. Although we are sentient creatures, Heidegger sees us as residents who, because of the need to survive, inhabit shelter. “To be a human being means to be on earth as a mortal. It means to dwell.” … Merely? One could say that the need to dwell renders us mortal and, according to Heidegger, “Mortals are in the fourfold by dwelling”—“fourfold” defined as earth and sky and divinities and mortals as belonging together “as one.” I concur that all these elements constitute the tenets of architecture, but as an architect I believe that what elevates some beyond mere mortals is the symbiosis of architecture, art and design.

One way to examine my philosophy is to consider how architects approach “Living in the Desert.” Mexican architectural critic Miguel Adria asserts that enriching the occupants, “the contemporary house is one of the most fertile laboratories of recent architecture. As original element and inhabitable object, the house is both a manifesto and a summing up of intentions. It is through the house—through their own houses in some cases—that architects define their positions. The house becomes a demonstration of the architect’s attitude to place, to the dichotomy between tradition and modernity.”

Today I am presenting buildings that illustrate Architecture. All are located in the Sonoran Desert, an arid region covering 120,000 square miles in southwestern Arizona and southeastern California, as well as most of Baja, California, and the western half of Sonora, Mexico. From about A.D. 700 to 1550, the river and Delta Yuman people—often called the Patayan—occupied the western sector of the Sonoran Desert, a fearsomely hot and dry region. Summer daytime air temperatures soar to more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Soil surface temperatures approach 180 degrees, with annual rainfall averaging less than three inches. The Native Americans lived in temporary hamlets, or “rancherias” which comprise settlements of widely separated rectangular rooms and deep pithouses lined with timber. As addressed by Heidegger, these were buildings to merely dwell within.

The buildings I will present today are all located in the Phoenix Metropolitan area, which lies within the Sonoran Desert. We are faced with the same environmental concerns that the Native Americans addressed, although the tools we have at our disposal allow us to go beyond constructing mere shelter or buildings. Science and technology have provided architects with the ability to enlarge upon our architecture and mitigate environmental issues. The advancement of engineering and building methods refine and modernize what and how we build in the 21st century.

Great architectural ideas produce buildings that elevate the experience of occupancy from plebian to enlightenment. And that happens, according to Walter Gropius, “ [when] your contribution has been vital.” It’s his assertion that  “there will always be someone to pick up where you left off, and that will be your claim to immortality.” This is how an architect’s legacy is developed.

I’m taking a break from Michael’s speech here because I’d like to say that when viewing his architecture, it’s so obvious that his ethic was developed with great heart and intelligence, taking nothing away from his talent and skill as a trained architect, of course. His legacy will be one that will stand the test of time, and Arizona is lucky that the desert captivated him enough to have enticed him to stay. Though I can imagine his projects in scores of other locales, I’m glad they are right where they are because their relationships to their settings is what makes them so stunning. I can’t wait to roam through his dwellings, which I hope to do during a trip to this aridly lush landscape at some point in the near future. Before Michael ended his lecture, he had this to say to his Italian audience and I felt it well worth repeating. I’ve edited the text to address you, the reader, rather than the intended audience at the conference: Before I close, I have left a small amount of time to present to you a grave concern of mine. I have attended Cersaie for ten consecutive years. Each of those years I have visited the Biennale in Venice. Near the entrance of the Biennale Garden, located in the sea, stands Augusto Murer’s Monument to the Female Resistance Fighter [or Monumento alla Partigiana]. Carlo Scarpa designed the development of the site and the monument’s pedestal.

This monument stands as one of the most neglected art works worldwide. It is now time for action to rectify this miscarriage of responsibility to the cultural history of Italy. In the United States each year we destroy many architectural icons purely for economic gain but here it seems that the neglect of the Murer/Scarpa monument is due to complacency. I am urging everyone reading this to commit to working diligently towards correcting the abuse of this monument. I promise you that I am personally committed to collaborating with anyone interested in coordinating a restoration effort on behalf of this work of art, and I ask that you join me in this noble effort. Thank you.