06/12/12

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)!

03/12/11
"Me & Me" by David Drebin at Contessa Gallery

Armed and Dangerous: The Armory Show


"Me & Me" by David Drebin at Contessa Gallery

The Armory Show hit NYC last weekend and the art-haute crowd was milling around the Piers breathing in some pretty rarified air. Rich and I made our way around the Modern show seeing the work of some of the most iconic names in art history hanging on the provisional walls. New York-based Jonathan O’Hara Gallery had a booth filled with transfer drawings by Robert Rauschenberg, and I had just about given up on my game of “looking for Julian Opie” (haven’t been to an art show in years during which I wasn’t seeing his effulgent figures incessantly stepping or swaying) when we spotted a series of his works in London town’s The Alan Cristea Gallery booth (no prancing portraits this time, but an interesting series of fashionable figures).

One of my favorite galleries was in attendance, Cleveland, Ohio-based Contessa Gallery, bringing what I have come to regard as their normal high standards to the show. Chuck Close was front and center in their booth and they had a handful of excellent Andy’s (Warhol, that is). I especially liked the Pop-maestro’s graphite on hand-made paper piece depicting kicky Halston heels. A mere $450,000.00 would have allowed you to take the #FashionFriday statement home!

Contessa brought David Drebin to the fair. He’s been getting ample buzz of late and we’re betting he’s one to watch. So agrees ARTnews and the New York Daily News (just in case our word’s not enough!). Our pick from the nearly sold-out Drebin offerings? “Me & Me.” At $3,400.00, it was a steal next to the Close portrait ($120,000.00) and a 1951 oil-on-canvas Jean Dubuffet ($450,000.00). Our take on that: get him while you can! If the crew at Contessa is as right as it has been in the past (and who can argue with Close, Dubuffet and Warhol), his prices will rise with his fame. Rich will be reviewing a Vermont-based artist that caught his eye soon. In the meantime, happy Roaming art lovers everywhere!

02/25/11
Gordon Ramsay (left) and chef Alessandro Delfanti in Contrada at Castel Monastero

Where in the World is Gordon Ramsay?

Gordon Ramsay (left) and chef Alessandro Delfanti in Contrada at Castel Monastero

One of my favorite trips of 2010 was a jaunt to Italy in late September/early October. During my tour of the beautiful country I had two amazing days at Castel Monastero near Sienna where I caught up with the renowned chef and television bad boy Gordon Ramsay, who heads up the cookery program at the resort and is the visionary behind the restaurants there. I was impressed with the refreshing honesty the Hell’s Kitchen host brought to the interview and enjoyed getting a glimpse behind the scenes of the rocking-and-rolling life of this intrepid adventurer.

RBD: Has anything surprised you about your career?

GR: Yeah, all the crap I get! Behind all the shouting, aggression and swearing is a passionate individual who is very focused on getting it right. I think I’m the luckiest chef in the world and I love food so much that I never stop; I literally never stop. I went out last night in Sienna and I tasted rabbit prepared in a way that I thought was inspirational, and I will use that. I suppose I’m like a magpie: I love traveling all over the world and picking up these shiny little bits of magic that are put out in restaurants—not just food but service as well.

RBD: Is there anything you are particularly excited about right now?

GR: I recently came back from Vietnam where I was filming for my new show called Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape—it’s almost like Tony Bourdain meets Planet Earth. I thought about the gloabal domination of supermarkets because here I was in Vietnam living with the locals, and buying fresh vegetables and meat twice a day—in the morning for lunch and in the afternoon for dinner, spending 75 cents to a dollar per person per day. I cooked with no dairy—no cream and no butter—and everything was fantastically fresh. The experience was a huge eye opener. Sometimes when you’re traveling at this pace, you don’t take anything for granted but you forget what it’s like right when you’re at the very beginning of your career. I had a limited budget. It was a fascinating time because I was stripped of everything—from my exemplary knives to my chef’s jacket—and I was just there in tee shirts and shorts in 100 degrees, living locally, which I recommend to every chef in the world.

I always get asked about striving for the highest level of perfection and I say to other chefs, “Come out of your comfort zones. Become vulnerable. With the base of knowledge and excitement you’ve got about food, the level of creativity multiplies ten-fold the minute you become vulnerable because you act on instincts.” There’s a huge soul-searching dilemma going on when you haven’t got the most amazing chopping board, you haven’t got fresh ingredients arriving on your doorstep delivered by artisan producers, you haven’t got the most amazing baked bread twice a day, and nobody is making ravioli and tortellini for you: get out of your comfort zone and become self-sufficient!

After Vietnam, I went straight to Cambodia and that was seriously mind-blowing. It had nothing to do with Michelin Stars, Zagat, the Good Food Guide or food critics, and yet some of what was served in these villages was better than you could get in Cambodian and Vietnamese restaurants anywhere in the world—it was exquisite, I mean really exquisite.

RBD: Speaking of Michelin Stars: you have what is becoming an embarrassment of riches, no?

GR: I’m very lucky to have an amazing team. I suppose the criticism we come under is that I can’t be everywhere at once. Well, I’ve never portrayed that I cook in all of these restaurants. There are two restaurants bearing my name: Gordan Ramsay at Claridges, which means an awful lot to me, and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. Next year we celebrate ten years at Claridges and we have so much talent behind it: from Angela Harnett to Mark Sargeant to Marcus Waring to Mark Askew to Claire Smith to Jake Hamilton—these are thoroughbreds who’ve been with me for ten years. When they leave the nest, it’s a natural level of progression where it becomes a rite of succession. It’s almost like in government in that you’re roosting the nest with food, and you’ve got peers and prodigies that are coming back to stamp out their own sort of uniqueness. What’s wrong with them going further afield? This level of succession has always been my forte: always, always.

RBD: Do you think it’s your passion that allows you to foster people to this level? I ask because I would think some chefs would be a little more selfish than you’ve been in supporting people to go out on their own?

GR: I’m an over-generous guy and so when you’re in the fold it’s anything and everything. I’ve always believed in sharing and the level of manners that my mum taught me from an early age. It makes no sense to compare chefs for their styles: I love Joel Robuchon; love what he’s done for formulaic menus, but I’ve got a different style of setting up a business and my menus are different. Clearly Robuchon has the same menu in Paris as in Tokyo as in New York as in London. What I want to do is to support the chefs that are driving my restaurants behind the scenes, backing me up for years. At some point, they’ve got to go out and take the next step on their own. I enjoy financially backing them—personally but quietly—and unfortunately that always gets misconstrued in the press because it’s said that another chef leaves Ramsay, but we know what goes on “hand on heart” behind the scenes. I know how important it is for these guys to strike out and become individual, and I’ve never been anything less than caring as a father figure to push them to the extreme. And I’m not done yet. That’s what I constantly tell myself. It’s not that I want to spend 16 hours a day behind a stove; I’ve done that! I’ve served my apprenticeship and I have the fascination of that next new discovery.

I have a series of new restaurants opening—the new Savoy Grill, which we’re all incredibly excited about; the Bread Street Kitchen in St. Paul’s Cathedral; and the restaurant in Borough Market opening up in September 2011 ahead of the Olympics.

RBD: Your energy is quite remarkable. To what do you attribute your verve?

GR: It’s a vibe for me: I’m more nervous when I stand still.

RBD: How has being a Scotsman made an impact on your sensibilities as a chef?

GR: Scotland, as you know, is not renowned for its phenomenal food! Great produce but sadly enough we don’t keep any of it for ourselves—we send it all abroad, which doesn’t make sense! I remember my early days in Paris when I was working for Guy Savoy and I’d see these amazing Scottish Langostines come through the door. The French were so arrogant they would be ripping the Scottish flag off the side of the box because they couldn’t quite believe all this produce was coming out of Scotland. I get it, because here was our country with a reputation for deep-fried Mars Bars and deep-fried pizza: it didn’t make sense. But think about it: hand-dived scallops from the west coast of Scotland were being shipped out to Paris. It was frustrating. Then when the venison arrived, it was like another stake in the ground. With fingers up to the French, I’d say, “Here we go—that’s three, four, five amazing kilos of produce that you haven’t got in your country.” So, yeah; I love that battle!

RBD: Do you think the drama of your career prepared you well for television?

GR: That’s a very good question. When you’re cooking at this stake and it’s under this level of pressure, you push the boundaries and, no disrespect, but there’s never going to be a time when you politely say, “Please be so kind as to pass me the bass!” When the shit hits the fan, it’s going to hit the fan or I’d be flipping burgers or dressing Caesar Salads while high-fiving everybody and running a chain of TGI’s! I’m not. I decided to go to the very, very top so I demand the best. In terms of the genre unfolding, there’s no script. If I give you seven identical ingredients, myself seven and Chloe seven, we’d come up with three different dishes: that’s the exciting thing about food. So chefs are notorious self-motivated insecure little fuckers: we’re always looking to please; looking for that big hug because we’re constantly striving to be the best! But when we are the best, we never realize we’re the best so we continue to be incredibly insecure!

RBD: People are always surprised at how nice you are in person compared to your television personae; is that something you set out to do or is it a natural process of the show?

GR: I’ve been in Marco White’s kitchen and Guy Savoy’s kitchen and Daniel Boulud’s kitchen, and I’ve seen the shit hit the fan. I have seen them rip somebody’s head off and absolutely cane someone and then 30 seconds later, I’ve seen them glide through the dining room to shake hands with their amazing customers—like a swan with such character, and amazing elegance and grace. Then they walk back through that door and if there’s something wrong with a dish—the ribeye is overcooked or the scallops are like rubber—then they blow off. I’ve learned from the best!

So if anyone tells you any different when they get to a certain age and condemn that level of ambitiousness by 35- or 40-year-old chefs, you must remember it’s how they made their names. God bless him, Daniel Boulud—one of the most amazing chefs in the world—I would not like to ever get on the wrong side of him. But very few chefs have that brutal honesty, whether they do it in front of the customer or in front of the camera. With me there’s no agenda. My biggest problem is the brutal honesty because if there’s something wrong there and then, I’m not going to wait to see if the cameras have stopped rolling before I let go: I let go. The unfortunate thing when you get into your 60’s and 70’s, these chefs then start to feel guilty about how mean they’ve been so they start philosophizing. I’m 43 years of age; I’m not going to start thinking, “You know what: we really shouldn’t get upset at sending an overcooked pigeon to the head inspector of Michelin! We should just relax and open a bottle of Bordeaux!” Uh, no! That doesn’t quite work out, now does it?

RBD: It feels to me like one of your greatest talents is nurturing people; does that come out of your nature, maybe your upbringing?

GR: From the early days when I was playing soccer, I was always the captain of the team so today’s role I play is a coach because I’m not done with cooking. I’m certainly not bored with it but I just need that level of stimulant to keep me excited about it and nothing gets me more excited than raw ingredients still, even though I look for the experience that will hit all of those notes on the back of the experience—exposure, what I’ve done for food, how many kings and queens I’ve cooked for and the amazing dinners I’ve prepared during my life. Last year was a seminal year cooking for Nelson Mandela twice in one year—once for his 90th birthday. That said, I never started cooking to become rich and famous in the first place. God forbid, if it all stops tomorrow, you’re still going to see me in my restaurant.

RBD: You’re fascinating to interview!

GR: I suppose I keep it real; unfortunately, the bigger you become in this industry, the more you get baby-sat because they see me as too fucking dangerous! I’ll admit I’m a naughty boy so I just watch as they crap themselves when they are afraid I’ll say something detrimental! I’m not that stupid! Also, you’ve made an effort to be here so if I can’t talk to you in an open and honest way, then I’d rather not do the interview!

RBD: Do you have a favorite dish? If so, why and who cooked it?

GR: There’s never been one dish on my agenda—there are thousands because I think there’s no such thing as the greatest soccer player in the world; there’s no such thing as the greatest chef in the world because it depends upon that particular time and temperament, and I never liked things to be set in stone—I like to keep on moving the goal post. One of the most sought-after dishes I’ve ever had in my entire life was when I sat with this family of eight on the river in Vietnam on this houseboat. It was braised pork belly done with fenugreek and star anise, and it was this amazing broth I just couldn’t, couldn’t stop eating. It was done with noodles, braised pork, their equivalent to sea spinach picked from the side of the river—it was mind blowing!

I’ve come across nothing along those lines in the last four months. In six-month’s time you ask me that and it will be something completely different. But, if I wanted to take something to bed, it would be my mum’s bread and butter pudding. When we grew up, she made it with plain bread, but as we became a little more successful, she changed to baguettes. Now she makes it with croissants—Mum’s gone up in life! She changes her recipe every decade! How cool is that? She went from bread to baguettes and now in the 21st-century she finally makes it with croissants. She volunteers for the WI, the Women’s Institute, which is an organization against domestic violence. Now when she makes it, she glazes it. We had no glaze in the first phase, then she went to brown sugar, now she has an apricot glaze! Isn’t it great that she makes it with croissants and an apricot glaze for these houses of single parents?

RBD: She’s been inspired by her boy?

GR: Oh yes! It’s traveling down; food is going back down!

RBD: Is she proud of you?

GR: Yeah! Well, she never, uh, overindulges. She comes to Claridges once every 18 months or so with her neighbors but it’s tough to get her out on the town because she’s obsessed with bingo! It’s nice in that she looked after me for twenty years of my life so now I look after her—I mean, I try! We bought her a house, I try to send her on holidays or on cruises, but she’s not easy to manage! She passed her driving test five years ago on the eleventh time! I said, “Mother, it would be a lot easier if I just get a driver for you!” She said no, so god bless her that she passed it! I got her a mini for Christmas, but I think it’s so terrific that she’s real and completely unspoiled.

RBD: Tell our readers what you feel makes Castel Monastero so special.

GR: I suppose no matter what happens after me, after you, this place is still going to remain the same—it’s unchanged, it’s steeped in history and it’s something that’s being brought back and put on the map but it’s still part of the local village. What I love is that it’s not a hotel, it’s a retreat; this is a gem, ever involved as part of the community where they make those who live here as important as the visitors. They hold onto that ritual; they hold onto that service on Sunday. The village is part of them. That’s not fake or any sort of put-on; that’s real. I don’t know if you heard the church bells this morning? God bless them I was sleeping above those bells! No need for an alarm clock or for any of my three daughters to ring me this morning at 8 o’clock! I’m teasing, of course; that’s what’s so beautiful here. The personality of place is being nurtured and preserved. (For Ramsay’s three choices for rock-star chefs of the future, see my piece in Delta Sky magazine this month.)

12/21/10
Johnny's Gratin Dauphinois, a dish he chose for Elizabeth's book..."

Grey’s Gastronomy

Johnny’s Gratin Dauphinois, a dish he chose for Elizabeth’s book…”

During a recent trip to the UK, I took a very brief train ride—thanks to the expertise of Rail Europe—from London to visit Johnny Grey, having the delicious opportunity to stay at his lovely home, Fyning Copse; to meet his family (hey Becca!); and to sample his flair for cuisine. Johnny prepared Elizabeth David’s recipe for Gnocchi Verdi, and as I sat around the Grey’s generously-sized table surrounded by English pine furniture (one of my favorite woods for bringing warmth to the home), I was happily enveloped in the cheerful laughter that poured forth into the night as easily as the wine flowed into our glasses.

Johnny has graciously agreed to share some of his favorite foodie reads with Roaming By Design readers to kick off this holiday week when it truly is all about the friendship, the festivities and the food. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Johnny Grey, comfortable with himself and at home in the kitchen!

JOHNNY GREY’S PICKS FOR THE BEST FOOD BOOKS OF 2010

It’s been a great year for food books. With thousands of titles on the market it is hard to pinpoint those worth buying. I hope you find these ten books of recipes, food stories and fine writing saves you some of the bother of seeking them out. They have certainly enhanced my year. At Elizabeth David’s Table, Her very best everyday recipes by  Elizabeth David. Contemporary compilation with photographs for the first time. A nod towards vegetarian choices, classic favourites and neglected  recipes from her six main books. It is a very personal book because I helped select 45 of the recipes. Jill Norman, her editor and literary executor, put the book together, aiming it at introducing her work to a younger audience, and 25,000 copies have already been presold in the USA where it is out on the spring. I suspect it will quickly become my most thumbed cookery book and I hope so for others too.

The Flavor Thesaurus by Niki Segnit. A most original tour de force of imaginative and exhaustive research into flavours and how they that match. Filed alphabetically here, a selection of entries from ‘M’ includes how the mustiness of forest floor mushrooms suits the earthy flavours of freshwater fish. Shitake brings out the flavour of Salmon; as mushrooms contain no salt she suggests they work well with Parmesan for risottos or Gruyere when served with toast. Mushrooms and truffles are described as kissing cousins so you can use truffle oil, which are butter to mushroom dishes like a push-up bra to the sensual figure: the aim being to give more ordinary fungi (which is mostly what we can buy in supermarkets) the full, in-your-face sexiness of the truffle.  A proper stocking filler with an evocative twist!

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan. Our greatest contemporary polemicist on food has produced this shortened version of his masterpiece, In Defense of Food. He brings sanity to the (sometimes) complex business of working out what to eat, especially if one wants to be ethical and healthy and still receive pleasure from food.  His training as a nature writer means you get the benefit of someone who brings elegance and wit to his writing. Being chastised is not how you want to be treated when looking for new ways of going about eating and he always avoids that by making you feel that you are able to be a good human being.

Kitchenella: The secrets of women: heroic, simple, nurturing cookery – for everyone by Rose Prince. A compliment to At Elizabeth David’s table, this book aims to show working women how they can cook imaginatively, healthily, affordably. “My mother wasn’t a yummy-mummy who made fun cakes with us. She was quite stern about passing things on. She saw it as training. Women are still the main carers of others but there is silence now. Secrets are not passed on. The concern is that kids grow up without learning because mothers don’t answer this call to nurture.” I met Rose when she co-produced “A Matter of Taste,” the TV biography of Elizabeth David’s, and realised how serious she was about communicating the values and recipes associated with English food. Very modern is her dislike of waste and her drive to make cooking an everyday family affair. Useful for working men too!

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham. Eye opening, easy-to-read account that is a must read for all kitchen designers and those interested in neuroscience. He combines paleoantropology, archaeology, chemistry and physics of food with human biology. It explains how we developed brains and how our skills developed through cooking food. It also spends the deathnel to raw food obsessionists and shows that cooking is the key to our evolutionary success. Mr Wrangham should be confirmed as the patron saint of kitchen designers!

Vefa’s Kitchen by Vefa Alexiadou. Greek regional cooking from Greece’s best-selling cookery writer. I am always reminded on trips to Greece that we are not appreciative enough of just how authentic and digestible Greek cooking is, particularly in smaller local taverns or restaurants. It’s unfair, too, that the country’s cuisine has never been celebrated as the mother of Mediterranean food, a fact that is put right in this compendium. I was given this by Harry and Emma, my eldest son and his fiancé, after they had visited Crete and we have all used it. Regional cooking is always the best kind of cooking to do at home, including Greek.

Plenty by Yotem Ottolengi. Otto has a striking food philosophy and real life offering, particularly with vegetables and patisseries. Although not a vegetarian, his mini-cuisine is visually arresting, original and innovative. It’s based on strong flavours and stunning, fresh combinations, bringing a desirable angle to being vegetarian. Ingredients have to “have a clear voice, plain characteristics that are lucid and powerful, with images, tastes and aromas you can remember and yearn for.” His growing collection of London café-style restaurants make each one worth a visit to see and taste his recipes for yourself.

Between Bites: Memoirs of a Hungry Hedonist by James Villas. Witty and compelling stories about life as an activist gourmet and writer. As one of America’s top food writers who wrote for Gourmet, Town and Country, Bon Appétit and The New York Times, he stands out for being, in his own words, an outspoken, optimistic rebel. His firsthand knowledge of French cooking, early championing of American food in the 60’s and dining with the great and the good, I found thoroughly riveting. Excellent for a train, plane or simple reading by the fire.

British Food: an Extraordinary Thousand Years of History by Colin Spencer. For years I made do with Dorothy Hartley’s eccentric Food in England for my knowledge of British food. Elizabeth David told me ‘our’ strength lay in farmhouse cooking based upon the high standard of raw ingredients, which left a lot unsaid. This extensive account looks at changes caused by the Black Death, the Enclosures to the Industrial Revolution and the social and commercial trends of the present day. It explains too how we reached such a deficit in the culinary department up till our recent food revolution and it helps one feel less defensive of being British. It is always fascinating to see history explained through media other than politics, particularly through food culture.

12/11/10
Bespoke Boxes for Storing Your Groovy City Guides

The Luxe Touch


Bespoke Boxes for Storing Your Groovy City Guides

Those of you who know me have heard me whining all week that one of the most fabulous trips I’ve ever been offered to Paris was derailed by a head cold. I know you’re all sick of it, cyber pals, but humor me for a moment while I wallow in self pity. For those of you who are just stopping in for the first time, forgive the melodramatics; the read will be worth the intro as I’ve got a few insider travel goodies up my sleeve.

At this very moment, I would have been in the presence of one of the world’s greatest chefs, Alain Ducasse, as he presented his new cooking concept “Essential,” a back-to-basics gastronomy that Chef Ducasse says takes a radical approach. “It takes courage to produce artlessly simple dishes by cooking elegantly,” he explains. “Like an architect that turns his back on flamboyance to achieve perfect harmony through austere lines.” If anyone can create simple elegance, that would be Chef Ducasse. Now are you getting the picture as to why I’m so disappointed to be sitting in front of my computer screen in Brooklyn?

As they liked to shout on those Ginsu knives commercials, “But wait!” I would have been staying at the incredible Hotel Plaza Athénée and I would have luxuriated in a spa treatment at the famed Dior Institut this morning. “But wait!”; that’s not all: I would be heading to Le Meurice this evening for cocktails at Bar 228 and dinner at Restaurant Le Dali, and I would have seen the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris yesterday. Hear that? It’s the sound of my heart breaking!

The Luxe Mobile App for Paris (and the Chic Guide)

How have I made myself feel better as I’ve gone through five boxes of kleenex? By playing with the Luxe City Guides new iPhone app for Paris. Well, a girl’s gotta dream! I’ve used the paper guides for a few years and I love how much information is packed into such a small package without sacrificing wit (and, when it’s warranted, snarkitude). The feisty first-take in each city always includes a tutorial as to a few phrases you’re likely to hear while in town.

Take the Miami edition, which I was carrying with me last week during the Art Basel/Design Miami mania: “Sorry, the sunbeds are all reserved” = “Honey, you’ve got more bush than Australia, ever heard of a wax…?” And who hasn’t bumped into this one in New York City: “Can I help you?” = “You look too poor to shop here and I have no interest in helping you now, or ever.”

My favorites, however, punctuate the opening page of the London guide, which I used during my trip to the UK a few weeks ago when I stayed at two beautiful Dorchester Collection properties, Coworth Park in Ascot and the Dorchester in London. Here are four phrases to help you decipher “Brit-speak”: “Really, how interesting” = “You’re boring me to death”; “Not bad” = “Very good” (Now I realize why they had a difficult time understanding me and vice versa! Not bad = Very good; really?) “Quite good” = “Rather disappointing”; and “Bob’s Your Uncle, Fanny’s Your Aunt” = “Voila!” They had to make me think of Paris again, didn’t they? Just when that fabulous trip to London had distracted me for a moment.

If you’re the hip/no-electronic type, you’ll love the cool bespoke boxes into which you can tuck your printed guides until you’re off on your next adventure. I hope to be back on the road before too long myself. Until then, I’m checking out the “Loves & Loathes” section of the Paris guide on my phone. Guess what? It says Le Meurice has the best luxe lunch deal in town. No kidding! Why don’t you just rub it in! Seriously, happy roaming everyone!

11/11/10
Gauguin's "The Loss of Virginity"

Savage Blood

 

During my UK adventure last week, I had one of the most sensually remarkable experiences of my life. You might surmise it was enjoying the opulence of the famed Dorchester in London’s Mayfair across from Hyde Park, and while that was truly a sumptuous experience, the mind-blowingly arousing escapade was visiting Gauguin: Maker of Myth, the new exhibition at the Tate Modern that opened the day I arrived in London. There were two other journalists on the press tour who wanted to see the show, Tara Weingarten and Alain Gayot.

I surmised that opening day tickets would be difficult if not impossible to get but the Dorchester came through and I was awed by the collection of paintings the Tate Modern had pulled together from museums, institutions and collectors around the globe. Most of my favorites of Gauguin’s Tahitian paintings were there and to have the opportunity to walk through room after room of his work was remarkable. When I saw the letters that Gauguin had written to Van Gogh, the sketches he’d inserted into the body of the text beautifully illustrative of his words (thanks to Gayot’s translating the French), I felt time falling away and a pinpoint of history exploding in the room. What a pleasure to see!

Yes, Jeeves, there’s an app for that!

I’ve long been fascinated with Gauguin’s Tahitian period. When I read Noa Noa, his Tahitian Journal, I was struck by how tortured the man had become by that time in his life, taking arsenic with regularity because he was struggling so. “For some time past I had been growing restless,” he wrote. “My work suffered under it. It is true that I lacked many of the essential implements; it irritated me to be reduced to impotence in the face of artistic projects to which I had passionately given myself. But it was joy most of all which I lacked.”

As I read how the further he entered into his fantasies, the more shattered they became, I decided to write a play called “Ghost of a Chance.” I was honored with a staged reading several years ago and received some excellent advice from the actors who gave their time and talents to the process. The exhibition has motivated me to work on it again. Happy sensual roaming everyone! If you get to London, don’t miss this show!

10/14/10
SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Handwriting on the Wall?

The New City Notebooks

Hi everyone: remember these fresh new Moleskine City Notebooks I took with me to Europe several weeks ago? I had a blast filling them with notes about London and Milan, and jotting down everything I didn’t want to miss given the jet-lagged fog I knew would accompany me back to the states! As I was zipping through the countryside on the trains between Lake Como and Milan, and Milan and Siena (with stops in Florence, of course), I was jotting down sensory information about what I was seeing through the windows. This means they’re not new anymore but that’s the beauty of a heartily used bound book that holds delicious and important memories.

Used and Improved?

At one point I decided to see how it felt to make some notes in my iPhone. Is there a difference between the typed and the handwritten word, I wondered, as I pulled the slim smartphone from my pocket? As I began typing, I thought about how I happen to like to see my own handwriting scroll along a fresh page; how very attached I am to getting everything down in ink. But as the dark letters appeared one-by-one on the yellow-pad background of the iPhone “Notes” application, the entries were pretty jazzy.

Now I find myself torn, asking myself if there will come a point when my back, which takes the brunt of all the flotsam and jetsam I carry with me when I travel, makes the decision? Lugging a suitcase and heavy backpack up and down train stairs has its physical challenges so there may very well be a point when the lighter electronics win out but I do not by any means believe the handwriting is on the wall for giving up my journals or my city notebooks any time soon! After all, I’ve never had a notebook lose a charge on its battery!

Always a Sucker for a Cool Font!

I’m heading back to England and France in two weeks so I’ll let the argument continue to play out as I zip between London and Trouville, France, then back to Brighton, England, on Rail Europe. Stay tuned my roaming compatriots as I’ll be making notes along the way–both handwritten and electronic! What’s your preferred way to take notes when you travel? I’d love to know!

10/8/10
Johnny Grey

Booking it to England

Johnny Grey

You all know what a sucker I am for books, and you might have guessed that any subject addressing a lack of soul in design would get my attention as well. There’s an event in Birmingham, England, this weekend that looks to be an interesting exploration of emotional design entitled “Home Is Where the Heart Is: Interior Design with Emotion.” Johnny Grey will join designer, writer and TV presenter Kevin McCloud; Habitat creative director Theo Williams; and designer, author and TV presenter Naomi Cleaver at Grand Designs Live on Saturday, October 9th at 1:15 p.m. to discuss the timely subject. The panel will be moderated by producer Aidan Walker.

Johnny’s talk, which he’s calling “Ten Books: Sources of Influence,” will explore his favourite titles and demonstrate how they have influenced his work as well as what value they offer to clients, designers and architects. They include, A Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson and David Freeman; The World of Goods by Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood; Happiness: Lessons from a New Science by Richard Layard; I’m Still Here by John Zeisel; Healing Spaces by Esther Sternberg; Wabi Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers by Leonard Koren; The Art Instinct by Denis Dutton; The Alexander Technique by John Gray; The Craftsman by Richard Sennett; and House as a Mirror of Selfby Clare Cooper Marcus.

“I want to spread ideas to designers and homemakers on ways of embedding soul and comfort, using new tools from brain research, psychology, art, food and the five senses via ten original and powerful books,” Grey says. “Over the years many books with powerful ideas do not find tipping points, and designers don’t have enough time to read and tend to stick design books. I’d like to see this change: I think we’d be all the better for it.”

Here’s a sneak peak as to what Grey had to say about Happiness during his presentation at Decorex last week.

09/30/10
Villa Roccabruna (back in the day)

At this lone hour…


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!

09/27/10
Johnny Grey's "take" on the new cottage kitchen...

Johnny Grey on the Post-feminist Kitchen


Johnny Grey's "take" on the new cottage kitchen cupboard...

I’m at Decorex in London for the debut of Johnny Grey’s new furniture line for the kitchen (see earlier posts about his inspirations on Design Commotion and my Examiner page). As I was interviewing him this morning, he said something that I found so remarkable that I decided we just had to get it on video. The talented and soulful designer believes that we have now gone beyond the post-culinary kitchen—which he has advocated for quite some time—to the post-feminist kitchen. It’s a brilliant extension of his philosophy that a kitchen is a living room in which meals are prepared so they should be furnished like one.

This inspired the new line, in fact, which is truly furniture for the kitchen—something that many manufacturers claim without backing it up. The collaboration Grey has undertaken with some incredible artisans is brilliant. I’ll be bringing you other posts with videos of their take on design and collaborating with Grey. And, of course, we’ll have more video of the personable Grey dishing on kitchen design as we explore his ideas for one of the most important rooms of the home. It is, after all, called the heart of the home for good reason!

Talented tweeps Sarah Lloyd and Paul Anater have terrific posts of Grey’s new line on their blogs so check them out!