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)!


A Taste of Maine

I attended a wonderfully executed event held by Visit Maine earlier this month, which has me dreaming up some idyllic summer plans. The food during the evening at the St. Regis Hotel was delicious, and the wine crisp and clean juxtaposed against the rich flavors of crab, clams and lobster.

I’ll be sharing news here about treks to Ogunquit, where I will visit The Cliff House, as well as other wonderful venues in the seaside town. Then I’ll hightail it to the mountains to a charming spot on the hem of the White Mountain National Forest to a town called Bethel. I can’t wait to peruse the architecture of the quaint village, which will be celebrating its centennial next year.

I’ll be taking a day-trip to Cape Elizabeth to see how the eco-friendly initiatives being supported by Inn by the Sea are going. I will always have a soft spot for the wonderful resort perched on the edge of Crescent Beach Sate Park and Seal Cove. I’m especially keen to see their Bunny Habitat Restoration, which they are undertaking in collaboration with the Maine Department of Conservation and the Parks Department, as they take steps to restore the habitat for the endangered New England Cottontail rabbit.

My head was swimming with thoughts of fun escapades when I left that evening—cultural events at the Stonington Opera House and the Maine Maritime Museum, along with the sounds of the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival caught my eye; a sand-nestled cottage from Seaside Vacation Rentals in York, and news of Amtrak’s Downeaster expanding northward to Brunswick rounded out the exploratory legwork I am hoping will take me far away from the steamy cement of NYC this summer!


The Rebel as Poet

By the Table; Verlaine is far left and a young Rimbaud is seated facing him.

“By the Table”; Verlaine is far left and a young Rimbaud is seated facing him.

During my time in Paris, I visited the Musée d’Orsay, drinking in the architecture of the former railway station from blocks away (and understanding why the museum bills the building, which was erected for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, as its first work of art). The locale on the banks of the Seine opposite the Tuileries Gardens is its second triumph. And its art collections, spanning from 1848 to 1914, is its pièce de résistance.

One painting in particular was pilgrimage-worthy for me: Henri Fantin-Latour’s By the Table. I’ve been fascinated with it since I can remember because the subjects in the composition are men gathered at the Salon of 1872, including Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud—an almost cherubic Rimbaud sitting facing his friend at the time. It was Verlaine, a more mature poet, who would eventually contribute to Rimbaud’s disillusionment, causing him to put down his pen at the age of 20. What a loss for poetry! One of my favorite quotes has been attributed to Rimbaud, though I have never managed to track down the source: “I’d rather be the poem than the poet,” he was reported to have said. I feel that sums up the level of dedication a true poet would have to his or her craft.

If you’ve never read Rimbaud’s story, it’s worthwhile. He didn’t have an easy life, and he wrote what he produced at such a young age, I can only imagine the quality of work he would have produced had he been writing as a mature poet. A great place to start if you also happen to like rock-n-roll is Wallace Fowlie’s book Rimbaud and Jim Morrison: The Rebel as Poet. He compares the two renegades who did share a passion for stirring things up. I give you Rimbaud’s “Sensation,” a poem he wrote in March of 1870, nearly a century and a half ago:

Through blue summer nights I will pass along paths,

Pricked by wheat, trampling short grass:

Dreaming, I will feel coolness underfoot,

Will let breezes bathe my bare head.

Not a word, not a thought:

Boundless love will surge through my soul,

And I will wander far away, a vagabond

In Nature—as happily as with a woman.

Arthur Rimbaud

And as Morrison says in “L.A. Woman”: …Midnight alleys roam…


Make It Personal!

The Tomb of Heloise & Abelard

The tomb of Heloise & Abelard at Pere Lachaise in Paris.

I’ve been blazing around Paris soaking in a schizophrenic mix of historically significant writerly inspiration and modern-day Parisian glitz: it’s quite a paradoxical melange! Even the eye candy cuts its own broad swath, from beautifully dressed men and women to a luscious piece of iconic architecture at every turn (I will admit to being a sucker for the Neoclassical French style–the ubiquitous mansard roofs alone are enough to make me swoon)!

I generally shy away from overtly touristy experiences when I travel but I’ve put them in the mix during this pilgrimage to the City of Light. They’ve been important points of inspiration sprinkled amongst the hours spent journaling in the cafes that once drew some of the most dedicated writers of all time. What I’ve done with each exploit is to dig deeper; to make each overtly obvious tourist escapade my own in some way.

Oscar Wilde's Tomb at Pere Lachaise in Paris.

Oscar Wilde’s tomb at Pere Lachaise in Paris.

At the Pere Lachaise cemetery, seeing the tomb of Heloise & Abelard was as exciting as I thought it would be. I’ve been inspired by their story for ages. But seeing Oscar Wilde’s tomb was a surprise, as it taught me something important as an avid reader. Words in a book, regardless how well crafted they are, do not always do the thing they are describing justice if there is significant emotionality attached.

I’d read in a number of books, including one of my favorites that I recommend to anyone before they travel to Paris, Metrostop Paris, that Wilde’s grave was one of the most popular in the massive cemetery, and that it had to be cleaned regularly because fans of his literature could not help but write on or kiss the slabs surrounding the writer’s remains. It was a sight to behold and one of the most moving outpourings of emotion I’ve ever seen–in as many different languages as you can imagine.

Kisses gone Wilde on Oscar Wilde's tomb at Pere Lachaise.

Kisses gone Wilde!

This limitation of description was brought home to me again as I stood in the study of La Maison de Balzac, the museum dedicated to the famous French novelist and playwright Honore de Balzac. His petite writing table and roomy upholstered chair were placed in the center of the intimately-scaled room where the writer spent hours creating his novels and plays, nearly 100 of which make up La Comedie Humaine.

He retreated to the tiny home that was an outbuilding of a larger residence, or a folly, to escape creditors during a low point in his life. He lived in the one-story dwelling nestled into a lush garden between 1840 to 1847. “Working means getting up at midnight every evening, writing until eight o’clock, having lunch in a quarter of an hour, working till five o’clock, having dinner, going to bed, and starting all over again the next day,” Balzac wrote.

The writing table, which remains exactly where he had placed it, is where he proofread the entire La Comedie. He said that the desk was “the witness of my worries, my miseries, my distress, my joys, everything. My arm has almost worn it out with rubbing as I write.”

As I stood trying to imagine the mammoth creative energy that must have been unleashed in that room (before I had read this quote, mind you), the thing that struck me was how the table top had been worn down to the point that it had a significant indention in it where the writer had repeatedly run his arms over the wood as he drew wildly flailing lines to the margins of the pages he edited then scribbled in the updated text he wanted to include in the pages he had written.

He had done so time and time again as the exhaustive display of edited pages proved. I stood in awe of this tiny table with sturdy turned legs, which had acted as the foundation of such great literary works. It is a memory I will treasure forever.

The door to Honore de Balzac's study in Passy, a suburb of Paris.

The door to Honore de Balzac’s study in Passy, a suburb of Paris.

Forgive me if I seem overly sentimental in this post: I really do dig this type of exploration so much! It’s like manna from heaven for this writer, who has been making a living as a journalist and author for the past 15 years, to let some of the chaos go and drop down into a deeper place. I hope that if you are roaming somewhere soon, you’ll be sure to find a way to make your experiences heartfelt. There’s nothing like it no matter where you are in the world! And, it just so happens to be #TravelTuesday so we should all be roaming where we want to!


MAD for Patrick Jouin!

Chair Chick’s on the prowl and she’s discovered big news! French designer Patrick Jouin (yes, he’s a hottie, but he’s also talented) is making his American museum debut this November at Museum of Arts and Design (And you know who will be busting down the door to get in, right? Chair Chick at your service!). Jouin will be staging a multimedia installation at MAD that will examine the role of “gesture” in the making of a culinary dish. When I was in Paris this past February, I toured the phenom’s exhibition at the at the Centre Pompidou.

I’ll admit, it was difficult to pay attention due to the hoard of college-aged girls crowding around us asking for his autograph, but we managed to hold our own with the trim, handsome designer who walked elegantly around the space, a motorcycle helmet slung casually over his forearm. His designs in the varied exhibit ranged from eating utensils to subway token booths. His creativity seems to know no bounds, which is why he never goes anywhere without a sketch pad. “I have two in the seat of my moto,” he said as he kissed the air above both cheeks in parting! If you didn’t get to visit the Pompidou, here’s a great video that gives you a taste of his versatility or read my piece on my Examiner Page. Above is Solid C1, one of the chairs that will be featured at MAD.


“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.


Earth, Wind and Fire Frozen in Time

Mille Fiori (photo by Al Hurley)

Mille Fiori (photo by Al Hurley)

Since revolutionizing the Studio Glass movement, Dale Chihuly has continually pushed to new heights and experimented with new forms, creating blown glass artistry that take command of indoor and outdoor environments regardless of a setting’s inherent beauty. His works are synonymous with drenching color—evident in the installations at the Chihuly Collection within the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida, which recently opened to the public.

During an interview, I once asked the man behind the glass how he would explain the excitement his work generates and he said, “The color is a very important part of it, but it could also be the scale of the works I create. I think people are excited because they are often looking at things they’ve never seen before.” Tampa-based architect Albert Alfonso of Alfonso Architects created the backdrop for Chihuly’s vibrant works on display in the series of galleries that make up the arts center. “The Chihuly Collection would not be the spectacular space that it is today without the hard work, vision and dedication of my friend and architect Albert Alfonso, who transformed the space into a spectacular architectural environment to showcase my work,” Chihuly remarked of the 10,000-square-foot center

Persian Ceiling "Where We've Been and Where We're Going"-Alfonso (photo by Scott M. Leen)

Persian Ceiling “Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going”-Alfonso (photo by Scott M. Leen)

I had the good fortune to understand a bit about what makes Alfonso tick creatively when I was interviewing him for my most recent book Four Florida Moderns. He approaches his architectural commissions with great passion, and an artist’s eye and heart.

I asked him during that interview how the paradoxical qualities of the rational and romantic, and the rigorous and poetic relate to his creative process: “I think the reason Kahn said that architecture is an old man’s profession is because we’re constantly trying to learn the craft of architecture coupled with the art of architecture. When I say the craft, I mean connections—how materials meet and how we can express ideas in a very clear, rational way. When a steel beam is meeting a wood panel, how do they meet? There has to be some point of transition. When you look at our work you’ll see the Miesian concept of form-giving. In this respect, we try to make things very honest. We couple that with the intuitive as it relates to say, Corb, who would set up a Miesian rational grid and then violate it with a cubist or an organic shape. This creates a tension that becomes paradoxical. The way Mies accomplished the same duality was to place a Caulder sculpture in front of a building. The two are like a marriage that works, and the duality of opposites brings richness to a building.”

Albert Alfonso contemplates the Blue Neon Tumbleweed (photo by Al Hurley)

Albert Alfonso contemplates the Blue Neon Tumbleweed (photo by Al Hurley)

These themes have played out in myriad ways in past projects: musicality informed a school with a music-based curriculum in downtown Tampa, a reinterpretation of a Caravaggio painting enhanced reflective light qualities in an open-air chapel, the emotional anticipation of air travel when flying was a new and unparalleled experience was a jumping off point for his Airside C project at the Tampa International Airport For the Morean Arts Center, his friendship with Chihuly rewarded the project with an intimacy that reflected Alfonso’s adroit understanding of the glass artist’s work and his inspirations.

Knowing Chihuly’s dreams and desires deepened the project, gallery by soulful gallery. “Dale and I had talked about how he’d always wanted to do a chapel, so we began with that feeling of a central space to hold the Mille Fiori with side chapels,” he explained. “Dark patina walls mediate between the wood structural members above and travertine stone below framing the symphony of a thousand flowers of glass and light.”

The Float Boat Room (photo by Scott M. Leen)

The Float Boat Room (photo by Scott M. Leen)

The spiritual is reflected in the spaces that undulate around the glass pieces, which writhe and spark within them. Portals of light pierce walls, offering a glimpse into some mysterious future or past, and displays stand erect like altars giving themselves over to the privilege of holding such frozen liquidity born of fire. The art of Alfonso’s architecture here is that he created an environment for the sumptuous glasswork that pays homage to its importance without interfering with its power. It’s as if he understood the spirituality in Chihuly’s work and allowed it to shine through the series of warm, wafting galleries—a known or unknown testament to a boy who remembers being fascinated with glass at a young age.

“If I think way back, I remember stained glass windows in a church I went to as kid; they fascinated me,” Chihuly explained. “I also combed the beach when I was a boy for Japanese glass fishing floats—it was thrilling to find them.” Alfonso created a moody gallery for Chihuly’s floats that evokes a dramatic watery world.

“The brilliant carnival aspect of the float boat setting invokes a night scene in Venice with Palladian facades and orbs of color reflected in the canal,” he explained. Water figured just as dynamically in other galleries, such as the one containing the Blue Neon Tumbleweed. “This is a round seamless room with a deep portal that holds the fluid light of the neon tumbleweed,” he said. “Or am I underwater swimming under a man of war? I lose all horizon reference and simply swim.”

A great admirer of Le Corbusier, this is how Alfonso’s talent frequently eclipses that of other architects given the same tasks: creating drama from inert materials. His architecture and the glasswork of Dale Chihuly couldn’t have been a better match for the purpose of passionately engaging the imagination.


Terence Riley Skips the Pop Stops!

Terry Riley with Max (photo by Robin Hill (c) see web site below)

Terry Riley with Max (photo by Robin Hill (c) see web site below)

In March 2006, Terence Riley left his position as the Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York to take over as Director of the Miami Art Museum. He recently relinquished that position after leading the museum through the complicated process of completing the architectural plans for MAM’s new building. He has returned to private practice in his architectural firm with John Keenan with new projects in Hangzhou, China; the Hamptons; and Florida.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Terry and his partner John Bennett for Miami Magazine’s March/April issue. See the profile here, but first read on for an earlier foray into the mind of the Swatch-wearing, Techno-rocker, who responded to our purposeful prodding with wonderful wit. Worst outfit you’ve ever been caught wearing: “I am missing the casual clothes gene. I prefer business suits or shorts and flip-flops. A lot of people in Miami have a highly developed sense of something in between and I get some stares when I show up in restaurants looking like a beach-bound tourist. I will definitely have to work on this.”

What you hope to never see on the walls at MAM: “Orange shag carpeting.” Favorite piece of architecture: “Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion. It is still shockingly beautiful to me.” Favorite Documentary: “Paris Is Burning opened my eyes in ways that most films don’t.” Rocker or Pop Music Fan: “I think it would be best to say that as a teenager I took the Rock express, skipped the Pop stops and didn’t get off until Techno.”

On his roll in spearheading a major building project: “It is always a challenge to manage a project well, but we have loftier goals in addition to bringing it in on time and on budget. I won’t consider it a real success unless it is a great museum, a wonderful piece of architecture, and a catalyst in the transformation of Bicentennial Park from a deserted and dangerous wasteland to a vibrant urban space. To me, that is the sort of challenge that tests the power of architecture to build cities.”

Most Satisfying Meal You Can Remember: “Not madeleines, if you know what I mean. I don’t get all misty-eyed about food but I do remember a multi-course extravaganza in Kyoto in a historic inn. The food was terrific but it was the whole experience that made it so memorable: a private room with tatami mats overlooking a traditional garden, the prefect floral arrangement, etc.” Most surreal experience you’ve ever had in an airport: “Do train stations count? When I was in college, I arrived at Rome’s central station after an all-nighter from Paris. Still groggy, I was shocked to see the station covered with posters that said, ‘Welcome, Terry Riley.’ This is when I learned there is a minimalist musician with the same name.”

Most Important Curatorial Advancement During Your Career: “I went to school and began my architectural career during the height of post-modernism—which I hated. Virtually everything I did curatorially was intended to make people rethink modernism and its unrealized potential. There were a lot of factors involved, of course, but I like to think I was able to contribute to the current climate, which has been described as having a ‘renewed adherence to the spirit of the age.'” Favorite Piece of Jewelry: “My standard black, plastic Swatch. For forty bucks, you too can enjoy this masterpiece.”

Image of Terence Riley and Max by Robin Hill.